blogenlust
2.19.2005

Follow Me


So it was raining and I was bored (and inspired by Shakespeare's Sister and Rook), so I switched over to TypePad:

http://blogenlust.typepad.com
Please follow me there.

It's Only Propaganda If You Get Caught


In North Korea they call it state-run media. Here we call it "pre-packaged television programs":
Washington -- The comptroller-general has issued a blanket warning that reminds federal agencies they may not produce "newscasts" promoting administration policies without clearly stating that the government itself is the source. Twice in the last two years, agencies of the federal government have been caught distributing prepackaged television programs that used paid spokesmen acting as newscasters and, in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the Bush administration's role in developing and financing them. Those were not isolated incidents, David Walker, the comptroller-general, said in a letter dated Thursday that put all agency heads on notice about the practice. In fact, it has become increasingly common for federal agencies to adopt the public relations tactic of producing "video news releases" that look indistinguishable from authentic newscasts and are sometimes picked up by local news programs. It is illegal for the government to produce or distribute such publicity material domestically without disclosing its own role.
Of course, it isn't just federal agencies producing "video news releases" that is the problem. The problem is that people like Armstrong Williams and Jim-Jeff Gannon-Guckert are paid mouthpieces for this Administration's policies, all the while maintaining the cover of objectivity (no matter how flimsy of a cover that may be, especially in the case of JimJeff).
2.18.2005

What Is Our Policy Towards Iran?


Not surprisingly, the one thing lacking in all discussions of the recent increase in tension between Iran and the United States is a public critique of U.S. policy towards Iran. This is a consequence of both a Democratic Party without a cogent foreign policy agenda, and a more general, apolitical post-9/11 mentality that discourages criticism of Bush's foreign policy. It's an extremely dangerous position to be in, particularly at a time when foreign policy decisions carry as many consequences as they have in recent years. Lately, not a day seems to go by where the Bush Administration does not mention Iran, and specifically, the likelihood of a military confrontation in some form. Anybody that has paid even a passing attention to Bush's rhetoric over the last five years would recognize this gem from an interview he gave to German television today:
"First of all you never want a president to say never, but military action is certainly not, is never the president's first choice," Bush said, when asked if he could rule out military action against Iran. "Diplomacy is always the president's, or at least always my first choice and we've got a common goal, and that is that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon," he said in the interview taped in Washington and broadcast before his arrival in Brussels Sunday for summits with NATO and the EU.
If I looked hard enough, I could probably find an almost verbatim quote from exactly two years ago that instead referenced Iraq. In other words, we seem to be following the same path that led us to invade Iraq as we are now with Iran. And yet, it might just be me, but I haven't heard any serious public debate about whether this is a good idea, or what possible alternative responses might look like. I do know that we need to put pressure on Iran, but we need to do so in a way that does not exclusively rely on the threat of military action. Military action, including a surgical strike, will do nothing but embolden the mullah's grasp on power. First of all, with the way that their nuclear program is spread around the country, it is highly unlikely that a strike will take out the entire program. Moreover, even though it is true that Iran has a fledging pro-democracy/anti-mullah faction, such a strike might alienate their support, since given the choice, they will likely side with the mullahs--no matter how much they despise them--if it means fighting off foreign invasion. This puts us in a very difficult spot, and it's where you end up when you have a dearth of opinions that are open to consideration while formulating foreign policy. We're basically left in the position where we have to decide whether a nuclear Iran creates a more stable situation than invading/attacking Iran to prevent them from becoming nuclear. Unfortunately, it didn't have to be that way, but it's where our policy (or lack thereof) has taken us.

Questions


Is it really a good idea for Rush Limbaugh to go to the world's largest opium den? Regardless, I'm sure we can expect some fair and balanced coverage of all the good things we're doing in Afghanistan. Rush lie? Please! Oh, and did you know that we're handing out ecstasy to traumatized soldiers? 'Tis true. But don't even think about asking for medical marijuana to treat your cancer/AIDS/anorexia/glaucoma/MS/wasting syndrome.

Set your Tivo


I love Frontline. If I could marry it, I would. I'm especially excited to watch this Tuesday's program, entitled "A Company of Soldiers," which is an inside look at the U.S. Army's 8th Cavalry Regiment stationed in Baghdad. It's pretty raw, which means it has some bad language. Imagine that: soldiers in war, using bad language. What is this world coming to?
2.17.2005

Democrats Don't Always Roll Over


Apparently the consensus (at least from readers of this blog) is that Democrats will roll over with the Negroponte confirmation. It's probably true that Negroponte will be confirmed, and the best that we can hope for is that a lot of noise is made throughout the confirmation process like the stance taken against the Gonzales nomination. The notion of Democrat's rolling over, however, is not completely fair to the Democrat's (so far) successful efforts to uphold 20 Bush judicial nominations. I suppose an argument can be made that these are just as important as confirming people like Negroponte and Gonzales, and that Democratic efforts to fillibuster these appointments are laudatory. So it's good to keep in mind that Democrats haven't been rolling over to everything the Bush Administration puts forward. I bring this up because I just finished reading an excellent post from Matt at 1115. He reminds us that Bill Frist is trying to "go nuclear" on the Democrat's ability to fillibuster judicial nominees, and also points out that Pat Robertson has warned Frist that if he can't deliver the "nuclear option", he can't assume he'll have the Religious Right's support if he ran for President. Since we know that Frist is jonesing to be President, and since we know it's basically the kiss of death for a Republican to run for President without the Religious Right's support, we can assume that Frist will do everything in his power to change the rules and eliminate Democratic resistance. Now I'm not sure what Democrat's can do to respond to the "nuclear option," but they've got to do something, and I'm pretty confident they'll do everything in their power to stop him. Like Matt, it's more than a little ironic that the Party so eager to tout its ability to dish out democracy abroad is so eager to squash it back home. Not that anybody here notices. Or cares.

Negroponte


Wow. I'd suggest that Democrats do everything in their power to prevent the confirmation of Negroponte as National Intelligence Director. Some background: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Terrorism Link To Iraq


This article from the Washington Post highlights the danger of defining victory in Iraq as being able to hold an election. The fact is that the effects of our actions and mishandling of the post-war period have yet to play out, and according to US military and intelligence officials, it may not be a happy ending:
The insurgency in Iraq continues to baffle the U.S. military and intelligence communities, and the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday. "Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said. "They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries." [...] "Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment," Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate panel. "Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world." Jacoby said the Iraq insurgency has grown "in size and complexity over the past year" and is now mounting an average of 60 attacks per day, up from 25 last year. Attacks on Iraq's election day last month reached 300, he said, double the previous one-day high of 150, even though transportation was virtually locked down.
60 attacks a day? Pshaw! There are 60 muggings in NYC every day!! Or so Brit Hume might say. On a serious note, this is a perspective that needs to be aired more publically. I am surprised by how often I encounter people who don't take into consideration the physics of international relations: Every action has a reaction. I don't have to remind anyone that John Kerry was right to say we need to fight a more sensitive war on terrorism, one where we understand that actions may have consequences that negate benefits. Abu Ghraib is a perfect example. Our attempt to snuff out the insurgency by using torture to gather intelligence actually backfired in that it verified the very worst caricatures of the American occupation. We're much worse off now, in terms of winning the hearts and minds, than we would ever have been without Abu Ghraib. We have to realize, and our actions have to demonstrate, that the war on terrorism is more a war about winning hearts and minds, than it is about invading and overthrowing regimes. Update: Not that I have to drive home the point about Abu Ghraib, but this news is exactly what I'm talking about.
2.16.2005

Jerry Brown Blogs!


I'd like to cordially invite Oakland mayor Jerry Brown to join us at the next meeting of the BARBARians. (via TalkLeft)

Powdered Keg Redux


The assassination of a political leader. The forming of alliances. Where have I heard this one before? Along with Steve Soto, I can't quite tell on what grounds the Bush Administration is going after Syria for the assassination of Hariri. It seems forced and over the top, and when combined with our recent saber rattling towards Iran, a little unnerving. I'm still not sure whether Bush is audacious and stupid enough to start another war (a much bigger war), or whether he is just ratcheting up the rhetoric. I'm also not very confident that he can do the latter without also starting the former. But all is not lost. We have the chronically incompetent Rice, and her new sidekick, Elizabeth Cheney, on the job. We're in good hands.
2.15.2005

Local News


I'm not a big fan of local media. I find it dangerously lacking in substance and context, and think it is a major reason why (generally) people don't seem to a) care what is going on in the world, and b) know what is going on in the world. In my opinion, local news (and certainly cable news, too) is a major reason why a large percentage of this country thinks Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction. A recent study from Broadcasting and Cable (via Cursor) seems to validate my concerns:
Although many considered the November presidential election a referendum on Iraq, that would have been hard to tell by the time devoted to the war in local TV newscasts. Of 44 network affiliate evening newscasts studied in 11 markets, stations averaged 25 seconds of Iraq war coverage per newscast. The only story given less coverage was foreign policy, at 13 seconds. The presidential election got almost five times that coverage at two minutes, though local races barely beat it out at 30 seconds. Iraq was also beaten out by sports, weather, health, crime, injury, economy, “other,” and even bumpers, teases and intro music. [...] According to the report, the typical pre-election newscast broke down this way: * Ads: 8 minutes * Sports/weather: 6 minutes * Elections: 3 minutes, 11 seconds * Crime: 2 minutes, 34 seconds * Local interest : 1 minute, 56 seconds * Teasers, intros: 1 minute, 43 seconds * Health: 1 minute, 22 seconds * Other: 1 minute, 12 seconds * Injury: 55 seconds * Business/economy: 47 seconds * Iraq: 25 seconds * Foreign policy: 13 seconds
I understand that local news is by definition local, but for many people it is the only news they watch. I think the problem stems from the fact that local news coverage only fills a half-hour time spot. Twenty-two minutes is not enough to offer comprehensive coverage of the day's events--even if it is local. Not to pick on my home state, but I would be curious to see the breakdown of Milwaukee's local news. During football season, which in Wisconsin is about 300 days of the year, Packer coverage takes a huge chunk of the twenty-two minutes of news. And during the real football season, the local news is often followed by another half hour of Packer coverage. Packer's Extra, it's called. Now, to a certain extent, stations have the right to present what it knows its audience wants to watch. At the same time, though, these stations--as news stations--have certain responsibilities to maintain. It's definitely a balancing act, and I think a very good argument can be made that local news stations are not living up to their responsibility to cover what their audiences need to know versus what they want to know. One last thing: I suspect some people might argue that news from Iraq isn't local, and therefore doesn't have to be addressed on the local news. I would respond that Iraq is very much a local issue, not just because local men and women are dying and fighting in the war, but also because of the huge financial cost incurred by this war, and paid by U.S. taxpayers. We ought to have a little more oversight as to how our money is being spent.
2.14.2005

Monday Night Picture Blogging


I was in NYC this past weekend, thus explaining the dearth of posts. Today I was too tired and too busy to write anything, and hopefully tomorrow I will feel more inspired. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the weekend. We were lucky to be in Central Park for the unfurling of Christo's Gates:

gates The reason for the trip, though, was that I had a meeting (top-secret) with the UN Security Council, all of whom happen to be big fans of Blogenlust. Here is where we met:

un
2.09.2005

Deja Vu All Over Again


Seriously, is this Administration barking mad?
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday that Iran must live up to its international obligations to halt its nuclear program or "the next steps are in the offing." "And I think everybody understands what the 'next steps' mean," Rice told reporters after a meeting with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials. [...] "We believe this is a time for diplomacy," the secretary said Wednesday, adding that human rights in Iran and Tehran's sponsoring of terror groups are also causes for concern. "The message that we are giving to Iran: We do have diplomatic means at our disposal, we are doing this bilaterally as well as multilaterally, and I believe that a diplomatic solution is in our grasp, if we can have unity of purpose, unity of message with the Iranians and if the Iranians understand that the international community is quite serious about it living up to its obligations."
She's right about that last part. This is a time for diplomacy, but the United States should not reduce diplomacy to the level of school yard taunting. Instead of trying to encourage Iran to stop their nuclear program, Rice is actually giving them an excuse to speed it up and cover it up further. After all, Iran's biggest enemy already surrounds it, and it's now threatening invasion on a daily basis. What would you do if you were Iran? I get the impression that this Administration doesn't care whether Iran abandons their nuclear program, in much the same way that they didn't really care whether Iraq had WMD. All that matters is that Iran appears to be a threat, and that is what Rice is laying the groundwork for. My prediction is that if we do attack Iran, it will not be built up like our invasion of Iraq. It will be some type of surprise attack, that provokes an Iranian response, which we'll then use to justify a full-on invasion--draft and all.

Daou Report


Apparently the Daou Report has been incorporated by Salon. In principle, I don't really mind the move. What I do mind is that in order to read more than one of the blog highlights you have to jump through Salon's advertisement hoops. In fact, I don't even mind Salon's advertisements--usually if I'm going to read one of their articles, I don't mind viewing a few ads. But the thing I found so great about the Daou Report was that you could quickly skim through dozens of blogs without clicking on anything. For me, this was the essence of it's coolness, and sadly it's missing in the new format. Oh well, maybe they'll fix it. Update: I just realized that if you use an RSS reader, you can still read the highlights sans advertisements. I recommend Newsfire.

He's Baaaaaaack


Via War and Piece, it appears that Ahmed Chalabi is positioning himself to be the next Prime Minister of Iraq:
WASHINGTON - The former Iraqi exile leader who helped found the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, is seeking his country's highest office and says he has accepted an informal nomination to be prime minister. In a phone interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Chalabi said he had said yes to the request from prominent members of the United Iraqi Alliance list, the slate of candidates that will likely control a majority of seats in the transitional national assembly to be announced in the coming days. [...] If Mr. Chalabi manages to secure enough support to be prime minister of Iraq, it will mark an extraordinary comeback for the man most analysts wrote off last May, when American and Iraqi soldiers raided his home and confiscated computers on charges that he had employed thugs to bully bureaucrats in the finance ministry. Throughout last summer, Mr. Chalabi was targeted by an untrained judge appointed by the Americans; all charges were eventually dropped. The CIA had written off the former banker as having no political base in Iraq, while leading Democratic politicians blamed him for fabricating intelligence on Saddam Hussein's links to Al Qaeda and arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
And how could they forget his ties to Iranian intelligence? Isn't democracy grand?! Also, as The Left Coaster notes, this is great news for US military in Iraq because it means they'll be kicked out coming home soon! And in other Iraqi related news, Swopa at Needlenose has two great posts on the effects of the Iraqi elections, especially in light of the Kurds' success at the polls. Frankly, I'm so sick of posting about Iraq. I really wish the elections were the "be all, end all" they were presented to be, and I really wish that I wasn't compelled to post on everything I find outrageous and disgusting. You'd think that I would be numb to it all by now, but unfortunately, not yet.
2.08.2005

Just AThought


Despite the President's man date, he's having a hard time convincing his own Party to sign on to his Social Security reform bill. Why? Becasue partisanship can never trump self-interest, and even Republicans know that Bush's plan isn't going to help the majority of their constituents. This is also why Republican's blindly support the President's aggressive foreign policy. The percentage of angry military personnel and families is not high enough to affect election results. If this changes-- if a draft were re-instated, or if military sacrfice became more egalitarian--then even Republicans would think twice about writing the President another blank check to go to war (not that he needs their permission).
2.07.2005

Iraqi Election: You mean there's results?


Did you know that the Iraqi elections had results? Me either. Well they do, and they're in (sort of), and it doesn't look good for the "Freedom is on the March" candidates:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A Kurdish ticket pulled into second place ahead of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's candidates in Iraq (news - web sites)'s national election after votes were released Monday from the Kurdish self-governing area of the north. Insurgents struck Iraq's security forces with suicide bombs and mortar fire, killing more than 30 people. First election returns from the Sunni heartland confirmed on Monday that many Sunnis stayed away from ballot box, leaving the field to Shiite and Kurdish candidates. A Shiite-dominated ticket backed by the Shiite clergy leads among the 111 candidate lists, with a final tally of last week's election for a 275-member National Assembly expected by week's end. Allawi, who favors strong ties with the United States, had hoped to emerge as a compromise choice for prime minister, but the Shiite cleric-backed ticket say they want one of their own for the top job.
Actually, it depends on how you define Freedom. If you mean Freedom to draft an Islamic Constitution, then Freedom be marching! If you mean Freedom to assert your right to create an autonomous Kurdish state, then Freedom be marching! But if you mean Freedom to forge strong ties with the United States, then, well, better luck next time! (If there is another election). Now, I'm no Juan Cole, but it's not good for the US if their candidate finishes a distant third. It's also troubling, no matter what Cheney says, that top Shiites are calling for an Islamic constitution. On top of it all, it's probably not good that the Kurds might think they have a mandate to push for an automous state of their own. These are all mere insignificant (and messy) details. All that matters is that there even was an election.

A Raise for Special Forces


One of the most worrisome trends of Rumsfeld's tenure as Secretary of Defense is the increased reliance on private military corporations (PMCs) to function in rolls traditionally taken by the United States military. Basically, it's Rumsfeld's way of slimming down the military to be a more mobile and responsive fighting force that is heavily reliant on Special Forces. Ironically, many of these PMC's employ former Special Forces officers, having drawn them away from the US military with lucrative salaries. So, in effect, Rumsfeld's efforts to make the military more Special Forces-ish, has had the unintended (yet predictable) consequence of depleting the number of veteran Special Forces officers. This shouldn't be a surprise, since unintended consequences are pretty popular with anything this Administration decides to do. So, I wasn't too surprised to read this in yesterday's New York Times:
The Defense Department has approved a series of incentives for members of elite Special Operations Forces who remain in the military, including a $150,000 bonus for the most experienced and highly trained combat personnel who promise six additional years in uniform, military officials said Saturday. The pay and incentives package was devised to stem an exodus of senior sergeants, petty officers and warrant officers to higher-paying civilian security jobs in places like Baghdad and Kabul, just as they are needed to continue playing a pivotal role in combating terrorists and training indigenous security forces worldwide. "Our investment in these professionals is great, and the experience gained through years of service makes them invaluable assets to our nation's defense," said Lt. Col. Alex Findlay, a personnel officer with the Special Operations Command. "Younger replacements can be trained, but experience is irreplaceable in the current worldwide war on terrorism."
This should have been done from the start, since many former Special Forces officers have already made the switch. And why shouldn't they? Even with the increased incentives, PMC salaries are still higher. The real solution is to recognize that we can't keep outsourcing military duties to private companies, because the free market will always pay more than what the federal government can pay for the same position. This will mean that we have to increase the size of the military, and it might also mean we'll have to start using the military more wisely. Both of which are not bad ideas, in my opinion.
2.04.2005

Rice Reassures


I'm glad that Rice reassured us that we have no plans to attack Iran. Ooops. My bad. Correct link here.
2.03.2005

Response to Hinderaker


As promised, today John Hinderaker posted a response to Camille Gage's recent op-ed in the Star Tribune. Hinderaker includes in his post a copy of an article he sent to the newspaper as part of an effort to set the record straight on Gage's allegations. I'm not too concerned with the first half of the article, since it primarily consists of background information from this post that appeared on Power Line in October 2004. However, I think the second half of the article, the half in which Hinderaker berates the Star Tribune for failing to fact check Gage's story, raises some interesting questions. First things first, though. This is what we know about the original story posted on Power Line. Read it because it's important to know what's going on. Also, it's important to understand that Gage's op-ed was specifically addressing the allegations charged in this piece from Agape Press, because in his response, Hinderaker uses smoke and mirrors to confuse people on what is actually being alleged. Turning to Hinderaker's post, he writes:
"Because the editors did no fact checking, they did not know that the FAIR report, far from having "no factual basis," has been the subject of a criminal investigation."
It would have been nice for Hinderaker to cite where he learned of this criminal investigation, since I've spent some time on Lexis Nexis trying to find a citation. I haven't had any luck, and that doesn't mean there isn't an investigation ongoing, just that it might not be "national news." However, in a January 27, 2005 Journal Sentinel article, there is mention of an investigation into possible voter fraud in Milwaukee. But these charges don't seem to be related to those made by FAIR. Interestingly, Mike Johnson, the spokesman for the Milwaukee FBI office told the AP: "If it appears federal criminal violations may have occurred, we'll open a criminal investigation." Next, Hinderaker claims:
"Because the editors did no fact checking, they did not know that the FAIR representatives have submitted sworn affidavits saying they went to deputy registrars in Racine and Milwaukee who accepted their registration to vote, even though they made it clear they were not eligible Wisconsin voters.
Because the editors did no fact checking, they did not know that the FAIR representatives made tapes of their conversations with the deputy registrars which are consistent with their sworn accounts, and have been turned over to federal and state law enforcement authorities."
Again, a citation would be nice, and I haven't seen anything about this in Lexis Nexis (which doesn't necessarily prove it's not true). The only source I could find was on the FAIR website, from a November posting of two press releases on the allegations. The first ends by mentioning that the tapes were handed over to the Racine and Milwaukee District Attorney's offices. The second mentions that Milwaukee DA Michael McCann decided "not to pursue criminal prosecutions resulting from FAIR's investigation which unconvered evidence that noncitizens and illegal aliens were being registered to vote in the county." Somewhat defensively in my opinion, the press release continues with: "He was not referring to prosecution of Voces de la Frontera or others involved in registering noncitizens and illegal aliens to vote." I'm not sure what the difference is, but presumably, if there were criminal investigations filed against Voces de la Frontera, it would be noted on FAIR's site. It's not, though. Oh, and I've emailed Hinderaker for another source on this information, and haven't heard back from him yet. Finally, Hinderaker adds:
"Because the editors did no fact checking, they did not know that two liberal activists are already under indictment for voter fraud in Racine County."
Hmm...I think Hinderaker is trying to suggest that these two activists are the same two sent by FAIR. Unfortunately, they're not. The two people involved were associated with Project Vote, and they were indicted because they were felons on probation, which makes it illegal for them to register voters. Now, maybe Hinderaker is talking about two other liberal activists associated with the FAIR investigation that were indicted for voter fraud in Racine County, but I haven't been able to find any articles announcing such indictments. Now, after doing this research, I'm not very satisfied with Hinderaker's response. He doesn't seem to address the content of the original article, and makes claims that aren't easily supported by evidence. Of course, I haven't put that much energy into finding the sources Hinderaker cites, but I've done enough to know that his claims are not as clear cut as he suggests. And, in fact, it seems as though he is purposely confusing the story. I say purposely because Hinderaker is a lawyer, and presumably he isn't an idiot and can figure out that these things don't add up. There's one more thing that I came across, which I find interesting, but haven't been able to fully verify. In 2000, a Susan Tully from Viroqua, Wisconsin unsuccessfully ran as a Republican candidate for Congress. I learned this from a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that detailed some overdue bills associated with then Governor Tommy Thompson and his campaigning for local Congressional candidates. Of course, a Susan Tully is also the Midwest Field Director for FAIR, and the source of the Agape Press article. Now, as I said, I don't know if this is the same person, I just found it an interesting connection. I tried to email Tully at FAIR about this, but her email bounced. UPDATE: Interesting. Susan Tully is the Midwest Field Director for FAIR and she was the losing candidate for a Congressional office in 2000. Here's a November 2000 article from the Journal Sentinel that mentions how Tully moved to Wisconsin from California. If you read her biography at FAIR, it also mentions her residency in California. Now if I were a tinfoil hat type of guy, I might see a connection here... DOUBLE UPDATE: Hinderaker responded. We've been exchanging a few emails. I first asked him if he had a second source for the allegations:
I've talked to the people who signed the affidavits and reviewed the transcripts of the tape recordings they made. Most of this has not appeared in the newspapers.
In a follow-up email I asked about the criminal investigation and the two indictments. He responds:
As I understand it, the indictments are not directly related. How all of these events in Milwaukee and elsewhere fit into a general pattern of corruption is yet to be determined. The criminal investigation is pending. A joint federal-state task force is looking into the broad issue of voter fraud in Milwaukee, and I suspect it will be a while before this plays itself out.
Was that the impression you got of the situation after reading his response to the Star Tribune?

Semper Fi, Jesus


You might remember John Eldridge and his desire to turn lazy docile men into good Christian warriors. It seems he's getting some help from Mark "Gunny" Hestand and his Christian Warrior Boot Camp:

The teens are part of "Boot Camp," a youth group that mixes Marine Corps values and combat techniques with Bible study. The concept is the brainchild of Hestand, who started the group in 2001 to encourage youth involvement in the church. As far as he knows, Boot Camp is unique in the Christian world.

While some may find the juxtaposition of military and the church to be unusual, or even alarming, Hestand said he believes the two share key principles.

"We take the basic principles that are Christian and basic principles of warfare and we merge them," he said. "Our enemy is Satan. Our weapon is not an M-16, it's the Bible. We're trying to get them to be warriors for God."

Hestand lists the Marine values of honor, courage and commitment as analogous to Christianity."One of the reasons I chose the Marine style over other military branches is that almost anything they say you could replace the word 'Marine' with 'Christian,'"Hestand said.

Boot Camp has just over a dozen members - all in junior high or high school - who have signed pledges of commitment to the group. Every Sunday, participants arrive early to church in their camouflage fatigues and black boots.

Once the 90-minute service commences, the boys gather outside, usually in the church's south parking lot, where for 20 minutes they do physical training like new recruits under the barks and orders of drill sergeants.

"We really get in their face," Hestand said.

The next 20 minutes are dedicated to combat techniques, such as ambushes or guerrilla tactics. The last 45 minutes are spent on Bible study.

"We take the basic principles that are Christian and basic principles of warfare and we merge them." Unoriginal bastard, Hitler did that 70 years ago! The basic premise of Hestand's Boot Camp is beyond disturbing, it's fascist. You could easily exchange Islam for Christianity, and we (and by we, I especially mean the Christian Right) would instead be talking about terrorist training schools. The thing that irks me the most is that nitwits like James Dobson wage a cultural crusade against the likes of SpongeBob and Janet Jackson, but are virtually silent when it comes to the bullshit from their own people. Immersing kids in a culture of killing in the name of Jesus? That's cool. SpongeBob's butt exposed on television? Crusade!! The question I want to know is how is Hestand funding his Boot Camp? Faith-based funds?
2.02.2005

Freedom! Liberty! Bigotry!


Shakespeare's Sister asks the best question of the night:
How can a speech riddled with references to freedom and equality contain a call for a federal marriage amendment denying rights to a sizable portion of the American public? Or a demand to make tax cuts favoring the wealthiest permanent? Or a recommitment to funding faith-based initiatives over those which, in a country where freedom to practice or not practice religion as one sees fit, do good works in the name of humanity instead of God? Unmitigated horseshit.
Go read the rest. She's also right about Pelosi and Reid--how hard is it to find some personable and energetic Democrats to go on television and articulate policy?

Purple Finger, Brown Nose


God. I have to say that the purple finger imagery from this speech is the lamest attempt at political theater since, well, the President landed on an aircraft carrier, dressed in a flight suit, and prematurely declared Mission Accomplished. For some reason it reminded me of Tobias on Arrested Development, and how he got blue paint all over the place, while waiting to be called back by the Blue Man Group. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I pity you. Update: If you were lucky enough to miss the speech, Rising-Hegemon has pictures of the Purple Fingerers (scroll down a bit).

Islamic Law in Iraq?


One of the concerns about bringing full-fledged democratic elections to Iraq was that it might result in an Islamist government ruled by Islamic law. From a humanrightsfreedomdemocracyliberty! standpoint (which we seem to care about in this instance), this would be disconcerting since strict Islamic law isn't particularly kind to women. So what to make of this?:
The turnout for the top-finishing electoral list, a coalition of Islamist parties supported by the Shiite clerical establishment, has convinced leading clerics in Najaf that religious parties will have a majority in the National Assembly that will write Iraq's next constitution, several of them said.

The clerics of Najaf who orchestrated the Shiite coalition say they expect a constitutional debate between hard-line Islamists, who want Quranic law to be the constitution's primary source, and moderate Muslims who want a milder form of religious law. This debate, they say, will dwarf any challenge from secular parties.

It's important to remember that this election, although a step in the right direction, only chose the parties that would put forth the people to draft an Iraqi Constitution. An election where real leaders are chosen won't come until the end of this year. Thus, given the intensity and variety of political, religious, and cultural factors trying to inluence the drafting of this Constitution, we're by no means out of the woods yet. In reality, the response to the election results will be far more important than the election itself.

On a side note, this is embarrasingly ridiculous.

2.01.2005

All You Have To Do Is Ask


In an editorial in yesterday's StarTribune, Camille Gage sounds a note of caution over using blogs as a primary source of news. This caution resulted from a recent run-in with John Hinderaker, of the popular conservative blog Powerline. From the editorial:
As a graduate student in public affairs at the University of Minnesota, I recently heard an in-class presentation by John Hinderaker, who, with partner Scott Johnson, runs the Powerline blog. Powerline played a role in breaking the Rathergate affair and was recently named "Blog of the Year" by Time magazine. Prior to Hinderaker's presentation, the week before the November elections, I visited the Powerline site. To my surprise an Oct. 27 post covered alleged voter fraud in Racine, Wis., my hometown. The charges involved the registering of illegal aliens to vote. The story seemed outrageous, so I made a few phone calls to check it out. What I discovered was troubling. There was no factual basis for the voter fraud allegations. Powerline posted the story based on the word of a single individual employed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). This was hearsay at best, posted as "news" at a time when voter registration efforts by the Democrats and 527 groups were coming under fire by conservatives. At class I asked Hinderaker if posts to Powerline were fact-checked. He was dismissive of the question, so I asked if he was aware that the Racine voter fraud story was inaccurate. He stated that he was not, slapped his hands together and stated that the blogosphere was all about speed and therefore did not allow for fact-checking. Mr. Hinderaker went on to say, "Our readers let us know when we get it wrong." And therein lies the cautionary Catch-22: Bloggers may serve as media watchdogs, but who will watch the blogs? Do you have time to fact-check what you read online?
It's a good question, and one that bloggers and journalists should be weighing when they post stories or run with something they read on a blog (and I speak from experience on this!). Unfortunately, though, instead of using Gage's article as a starting block for a discussion on blogs and journalism, many conservative bloggers have turned to attacking Gage and impugning her credibility. Some examples are here, here, and here. Hinderaker even went so far as to call Gage a "miscreant" and criticized her for not elaborating on who she contacted and what information she found in order to conclude that there wasn't any factual basis to the story. He also added:
We are, of course, preparing a response. It will focus, I think, on the fact-checking that the Strib did before they printed Ms. Gage's attack on us. I talked to Commentary Editor Eric Ringham today, and he acknowledged that the Strib didn't do any fact-checking at all before they accused us of not fact-checking. That's right: None. Zilch. Zippo. Nada. And Ms. Gage, if that's really her name, has no knowledge about the voter fraud scandal which has now resulted in a federal criminal investigation.
And then, in an update, he notes that Gage gave money to the Dean campaign, as though that actually means anything. Now I understand that in Hinderaker's world, things move fast, and there isn't anytime for fact-checking, so I took two minutes and emailed Gage about who she contacted and what information she discovered. She was kind enough to respond with the notes she used for the story, which I've pasted below with her permission:
I began by calling Tom Farley, the news editor at the Racine Journal Times. Mr. Farley had no knowledge of the allegations. He pointed out that there is no city position with the title "Deputy Registrar of Voters" (what the post cited). He stated the City Clerk's office dealt with voter registration and suggested I call the Carolynn Moskonas, the Racine County Clerk. I then called Ms. Moskonas at the City Clerks office. She was unaware of this matter. Ms. Moskonas explained to me that at the direction of the state legislature, volunteers involved in voter registrations drives must attend a training. They are then considered "deputy registrars." I decided to go to the source of the allegations and contacted Susan Tully, Midwest field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). I told her I was a student researching allegations of voter fraud. I asked her if she would name the individual or group in question. She declined to name the individual, but said the group was Voces de la Frontera, a group that works with Hispanic immigrants. I asked her directly how she knew the individual in question was an illegal immigrant and asked if she had spoken to them. She quickly admitted that she did not actually know if the individual in question was an illegal alien. I asked her when the alleged voter fraud occurred. She informed me the incidents took place in August and September, 2004. I then asked her which law enforcement agency she contacted and she told me she had called the FBI. I then did an internet search on Voces de la Frontera. The first hit was a recent press release, released jointed by Wisconsin Citizen Action and Voces de la Frontera regarding their successful voter registration drive. I called Nathan Sooy, the contact listed on the press release. I asked Mr. Sooy if had was aware of these allegations. He informed me that this was the first he had heard about it. I asked him if they had been contacted by the State Elections Board, the Secretary of State or any other law enforcement agency regarding these charges and he said that neither Wisconsin Citizen Action nor Voces de la Frontera had been contacted.
After reading her notes, it's not hard to conclude that there really isn't any factual evidence as Gage claimed in her article. If Hinderaker, et. al. really had a problem with Gage's allegation, all they had to do was send her an email and ask her nicely to verify the source and information. But, clearly it was far easier for them to impugne her credibility than to take a few minutes to check her story out (Hinderaker says he contacted the StarTribune, but why not directly contact Gage?) And this, in my opinion, is one of blogging's biggest problems: too often blind partisanship overtakes sound reasoning, and the result is misinformation under the guise of "information you won't hear on CNN or Fox!!" Both the Right and Left are guilty of this, and I think it's the most important point of Gage's article.
1.31.2005

Jack v. Jay?


Something I've been following closely during the past week is the fallout from Jack Shafer's Blog Overkill article. As I wrote earlier, I think Shafer's piece is solid because it recognizes both blogging's promise and limitations--Yes, blogs have tremendous influence on the mainstream media, but no, blogging will never replace it. Seems obvious to me, but the article spawned a fairly substantial debate on exactly who it is that claims blogs will take over the world of journalism. Shafer made it pretty clear that he thought it was people like Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, and Jay Rosen--and, if you're like me, and didn't attend the Conference, but read Shafer's account, it would be easy to walk away thinking the same thing. According to Jay Rosen, though, this is a gross mischaracterization of his position. I can't vouch for Winer or Jarvis because I don't regularly read their blogs, but I can vouch for Rosen, whose excellent Blogging vs. Journalism Is Over clearly articulates the same point (blogs have influence-yes, replace?-no) Shafer makes in Slate. So why is Rosen upset? Maybe because Blogging vs. Journalism Is Over was given at the same conference Shafer attended! Rosen's justifiably annoyed that Shafer had to knock-down the blogging triumphalist strawman in order to make the same point many attendees were making. I'm not sure why Shafer chose to do this, but maybe it was because he thought it would be better for the article he intended to write if he didn't come across as repeating what people have been saying all along. Whatever the reason, it's unfortunate that the discussion surrounding the article has become a distraction from the less dramatic point that Shafer and Rosen actually agree. Just a thought: It seems that the desire to tear down blog triumphalism hinges on the use of the world "revolutionize" to describe blogging's impact on journalism. There's something about that word, which puts even blog sympathizers on the defensive because they're wary of the connotation "revolutionary" can carry. I think when people like Rosen use the word "revolutionize" to describe blogging's influence on journalism, what they mean is that it's having a functional impact on the field. That is, the way journalism is being done, is changing because of media like blogs. Misunderstandings have arisen, though, because people have misinterpreted "revolutionize" to mean "over-throw." When these people hear that "blogs have revolutionized journalism" they're thinking of "revolutionize" in terms of blogs replacing traditional journalism. But that isn't the case. Blogging's impact on journalism is more "revolutionary" in the sense of the Industrial Revolution, than the Islamic Revolution. For the purposes of the debate, it might be less distracting and more practical for people to start finding another way to characterize blogging's influence.
1.30.2005

Civilized vs Uncivilized: 100 Years Later


Tom Wolfe has an interesting op-ed in Sunday's Times, in which he compares President Bush's second Inaugural Address to Teddy Roosevelt's Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. What's interesting to Wolfe is that nobody at the Council on Foreign Relations was able to connect President Bush's:
"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands",
with President Roosevelt's:
"We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations."
After reading both speeches, I think Wolfe is correct to draw this analogy. However, I'm surprised and disappointed at what he chose to leave out of the comparison. The underlying theme of TR's corollary is that the people of the United States (and it's Anglo-Saxon culture) are more civilized and superior to peoples that are not as politically or culturally advanced. For instance:
"Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may lead the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power."
It can basically be boiled down to race, and this becomes more clear when you undersand that TR was talking about expanding America's sphere of influence into the Far East. In this sense, Roosevelt was framing America's growing Imperialism in a charitable way-- the "civilized" Americans would be helping their "uncivilized" brethern. I can't help but detect a similar trace of cultural arrogance in Bush's foreign policy, whose ideological framework was laid out in the second Inaugural. The way Bush talks to the Middle East about bringing freedom and democracy to that region is not unlike Roosevelt's way of talking to the people of the Far East. In fact, the rhetoric of freedom is used to gift wrap the War on Terrorism in much the same way that helping the uncivilized was used to garnish American Imperialism. One hundred years later we realize that notions of cultural superiority should have no role in dictating our foreign policy (didn't the whole world say, "Never Again!" at Auschwitz this week?). I'm disappointed that Wolfe could write such an endearing piece comparing TR's rhetoric with W's without noting their most abhorrent similarities.

Election in Iraq


I'm glad to see that all hell didn't break lose during the Iraqi election, and I'm curious to see what the final numbers are and which parties will have the most control. By most accounts, it seems that the election pretty much played out as expected: The Shiites and Kurds got out the vote, and the Sunnis didn't. Last night I watched about an hour of TV coverage on Fox and MSNBC (itself a bizarre spectacle), and I was struck by how few people were actually at the polling places. Of course, that might be because voter turnout was sporadic throughout Iraq, but you would think that if the media was going to show up at a polling place, they'd show up at a polling place with lots of people. Maybe President Bush was right to lower expectations, or as Sadly, No! points out, maybe he was wrong. I think we would have been able to find "victory" in just about anything that happened today. So, were the elections the "resounding success" President Bush claims them to be? Probably too early to tell, but probably not too early, as Hoder notes, to start hearing confirmations from the neoconservatives that their dangerous experiment "works". Before we start bringing democracy to Iran, though, Juan Cole warns us on what we can expect in the more immediate aftermath of the Iraqi election:
Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear. Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another "Mission Accomplished" moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed "election" isn't a Mardi Gras for Americans and they'll regret it if that is the way they treat it.
1.28.2005

Breaking News


President Bush rolled out the trailer for next week's State of the Union today, and boy, are we in for a doozie of a surprise!
He also gave a brief preview of the State of the Union address he will deliver on Wednesday: "I will remind the country we're still at war. I want to thank the Congress for providing the necessary support for our troops who are in harm's way."
Good thing, because I almost forgot. And I bet their families almost forgot, too. I bet he'll also remind us by asking us to continue making the ultimate sacrifice: more tax cuts.

Friday Nude Ann Coulter Blogging


Back by popular demand... she likes it wet (via Wonkette) Hope you have a nice weekend.

Queer Eye For the War Criminal


Dick Cheney: cheney (via Getty Images) Pure Class.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney raised eyebrows on Friday for wearing an olive-drab parka, hiking boots and knit ski cap to represent the United States at a solemn ceremony remembering the liberation of Auschwitz. Other leaders at the event in Poland on Thursday marking the 60th anniversary of the death camp's liberation, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, wore dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots.
Isn't that a Triple Fat Goose jacket? Schweet! On the bright side, at least he wasn't wearing this.
1.27.2005

Time to Leave?


Today I learned that one of the Marines killed in Tuesday's helicopter crash had been corresponding with a close friend. I'd actually read a few of the letters between the two, so in a small sense, I feel as though I know a bit about him despite the fact we never met and he had know idea who I was. It turns out that the Marine killed was in the same unit as another person my friend knows. This person was severely injured in Fallujah last November, and had he not been, would likely have been on the helicopter with the rest of his unit. This is extremely upsetting for me, even as someone with no real physical connection to these guys. I can't imagine how their families, and the families of other soldiers killed in action must feel when the Commander in Chief consistently proves himself to be an insensitive prick:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 - President Bush's opening statement at his news conference on Wednesday was striking for what it left out: any mention of the 31 Americans who died overnight in the crash of a Marine helicopter in Iraq, the largest number of American deaths in a single incident since the war began. Mr. Bush instead focused on his long-term goal of "ending tyranny in our world," and then cast the Iraqi election coming Sunday as part of a march of freedom around the globe. He said that if he had told the reporters in the room a few years before that the Iraqi people would be voting, "you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression." [...]

Though the tone of the news conference was at times light and bantering, in response to a question later Mr. Bush did address the helicopter crash: "Obviously any time we lose life it is a sad moment," he said. [...] "It's almost a policy," said the adviser, who asked not to be named because the president does not want aides talking about the inner workings of the White House, "because if you mention one, you have to mention them all."

I'm not even going to comment on the insensitivity of this because I think it speaks for itself. Bush is trying to run a faith-based foreign policy. He has faith in the fact that if he just ignores the negative and accentuates the positive, we'll all be fine and Iraq will be a beacon of freedom, democracy, and liberty. This is not going to happen as long as George W. Bush has any measure of influence on our foreign policy and the sooner he realizes this, the better off we're going to be. I admire Senator Ted Kennedy for publicly saying what no doubt many of his peers are thinking to themselves:
''The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution,'' Kennedy said in a speech to Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. ''We need a new plan that sets fair and realistic goals for self-government in Iraq, and works with the Iraqi government on a specific timetable for the honorable homecoming of our forces.''
Bush likes to talk about our "long-term goals" as if they are justification for the mess he created. The fact is, Bush has never defined anything resembling a concrete goal when it comes to Iraq. Freedom and democracy are dreams, not goals. Moreover, he's never actually addressed the logistics of our plan to achieve whatever the hell it is we're trying to achieve. It was always frustrating for me during the election when people would criticize Kerry for not having a real plan for Iraq. Although that might have been true, it would have been nice for these people to hold the President to the same standard, since he is our Commander and Chief and he's never really said what his plan is. Personally, I've always been a bit concerned about the cut and run option. I've never been sure that it wouldn't make things worse and create a situation that we would have to eventually deal with on a much more dangerous scale. But at this point, I have zero confidence in this Administration's ability to competently deal with the situation, so I'm beginning to rethink whether getting the hell out of there might not be such a bad idea.
1.26.2005

Should We Believe the Blogging Hype?


Even though I could use the money (every dollar counts!), I'm not going to work over Jack Shafer for this piece he wrote for Slate on the hype surrounding blogging. Overall, I think it's pretty solid because it recognizes both blogging's potential and limitations. As I've written previously, I don't think it is correct to assume (or wish) that blogs are going to take over the major media anytime soon. At best, blogs are complementary to, and a watchdog on, the traditional media. Hoping for anything more is wishful thinking. I do think, though, that Shafer gives too much credence to those that believe blogs will revolutionize media. He starts off comparing the hype around blogs to that of Guerrilla Television from the 1970s. On the surface the comparison seems relevant, since the premise of guerrilla television was that anybody with a small video camera could produce their own news and (cross your fingers!) one day take over NBC. The comparison fails, however, when you realize that blogging utilizes a prefabricated infrastructure--the Internet--that is cheap, extremely popular, and easy to utilize. This luxury wasn't available for guerrilla producers or pamphleteers, which ultimately stunted its potential growth. For instance, I could post this, and theoretically, it wouldn't be hard for millions of people to read it within 24 hours. But if I wrote this on a piece of paper or videotaped myself reading it, it would take weeks (at best) for the same number of people to consume it. The bottom line is that there is power in speed, and that is what is so significant about blogging, and it is why blogging has already had more influence than previously thought revolutionary media. If I were at the same conference, I might have had a similar reaction, since it sounds like there was a lot of over-hyped optimism about the revolutionary power of blogging. I think this is inescapable whenever you get a bunch of people together that are on the cutting edge of a developing technology. It's that type of optimism that puts these people on the cutting edge in the first place. But when you put them all in the same room, you run the risk of creating an optimistic echo chamber. Blogging is very cool and very promising, to be sure, but it isn't going to replace the mainstream media, at least in the foreseeable future. I've totally digressed from my original point: I think Shafer's account is a good summary of the current blogging landscape. And even though he might have been affected by the triumphant group-think, I think his skepticism about how far blogging will go is warranted. So read it for yourself and tell me what you think. UPDATE (1/30): According to others that were there, it sounds like Shafer created the impression of the over-hyped optimism just to be able to knock it down. Of course, if this is true, bad for Shafer, and bad for my critique of the over-hypers, but in the end, I think his main point still stands.

There's Room For Only One Meddler In These Here Elections!


Bush's War on Irony continues at full force:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran (search) should stay out of Iraq's elections, President Bush said Wednesday on pan-Arab television.

"Iranians should not be trying to unduly influence the elections," Bush said of Sunday's polls in an interview with the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya, according to a White House transcript.

He also buried the expectations bar about 10 feet in the Iraqi sand:
"The fact that they're voting in itself is successful," Bush said.
No, it isn't.
1.25.2005

Cha-Fucking-Ching


Who needs a tax cut?
The budget deficit is becoming a knottier problem in the short term and will be a potentially catastrophic one in the future, the Congressional Budget Office reported today. The report suggests that President Bush, in the budget he will deliver to Congress in two weeks, will have a harder time keeping his promise to cut the deficit in half during his presidency. The CBO's annual report on the budget outlook foresees a deficit of $400 billion this year. It also forecast a cumulative deficit of $1.3 trillion from 2005 to 2014, an increase of nearly 60% from the CBO's $861-billion estimate of just four months ago.
There is no way in hell Bush is going to cut the deficit in half by 2008, not with tax cuts and total war:
These figures take into account some of the administration's request today for another $80 billion for the war in Iraq, but they do not assume an extension. Nor do they assume the likely extension by Congress of some major tax cuts that were enacted in 2001 and 2003 and are scheduled to expire in 2009 and 2011.
Yeah, I'm sure we won't need any more money for Iraq or Afghanistan.

Obituary


Coalition of the Willing (2003-2005) Also known as the Coalition of the Bribed, The Coalition? of the Willing? Ha! Ha!, The Not Your Daddy's Coalition, and The You Call That A Coalition? Coalition , the Coalition of the Willing was a 45 (or 48 depending on who's counting)-member group of nations first brought together to find WMD, stop torture, and bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. When no WMD was found, the Coalition started advocating torture, and when people started to realize that freedom and democracy really meant an illegitimate election, membership slowly diminished, until the Coalition was no more. The Coalition is survived by The United States, Great Britain, and don't forget Poland (though, not for long). (via the wonderful Cursor)

Expensive Targets


The soon-to-be-built, yet-to-be-bombed US Embassy in Iraq will cost you, the US taxpayer, $1.5 billion. To put this in perspective, the Freedom Tower will also cost $1.5 billion. When finished, they will be the two most expensive targets in the world! It seems like we throw $80 billion down the Iraqi rabbit hole every few months... (via Atrios)
1.24.2005

BARBARians in SF


Ok, it's that time again. This Thursday, January 26, 6-9pm at The Uptown at 17th and Capp in SF. Unfortunately, this conflicts with the BARFF (Bay Area Resident's Focus on the Family) Meet Up at The Stud, so attendance might be low. More details here. For the uninitiated, BARBARians stands for Bay Area Resident Bloggers and Readers. So if you somehow fit into that description, and even if you don't (I'm pretty sure the "Resident" part was only added to make the acronym work), feel free to join us.

James Dobson Goes To The Movies For Your Kids So You Don't Have To


Via The American Street, I noticed this handy guide to movies from James Dobson's Focus on Fascism the Family organization. It's particularly helpful if you want to know how many times the word "fuck" was used in Closer ("about 40, with a handful of 'shits'"), the sexual content of Racing Stripes ("There's a bit of magnetism between animals that comes across in subtly sexualized humor meant to go over the heads of youngsters while amusing their parents"), or the spiritual content of Darkness ("The entire plot hinges on ritualistic satanic sacrifice"). I especially enjoyed this hot description of the sexual content in The Incredibles:
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl revel in their visibly passionate relationship. Quick kisses, longing gazes, lingering touches and wink-wink romanticism hint at some of the best things marriage has to offer. Elastigirl becomes concerned that Mr. Incredible has developed a wandering eye, but she's proved wrong. Elsewhere, Mirage wears an outfit that reveals a bit of cleavage. (All the superhero getups are skintight.)
Some of the best things marriage has to offer?? I need a cold shower! Overall, this is a great resource if you want your kids to grow up being square like their parents.

Onward Christian Warriors!


I have the feeling that if Bush actually read books, he'd probably like this one.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Movies like "Braveheart" and "Legends of the Fall" are on the viewing list for men in a growing Christian movement that calls for them to throw off their "nice guy" personas and emulate warriors. The book which inspired the movement, John Eldredge's "Wild at Heart," has already sold 1.5 million copies in English and been translated into 16 languages, most recently Korean. Eldredge believes many Christian men have become bored, "really nice guys" and invites them to rediscover passion by viewing their life's mission as having a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. [...] Men have been flocking to retreats and forming small groups to study it. Some are organized by Eldredge and his team, but many are just informally arranged by readers of the book. These groups have sprung up as far away Kazakhstan and even among tribes along the Amazon River in South America.
And guess where Eldredge used to work:
Eldredge, who is a trained counselor and worked for 13 years for Christian organization Focus on the Family, said we are currently living in a "fatherless age" with many men having abandoned their children if not physically then emotionally. His own father was an alcoholic who after some good years when Eldredge was young became increasingly distant. Chase had lost his father, who he described as "very cold," just a few months before he attended the retreat. " A lot of what it brings out is how much you are impacted by your own father. What role model he set for you and how God relates to us as the big father," Chase said. Eldredge said he used characters such as Mel Gibson's warrior Wallace in "Braveheart" because the characters often embody men who are engaging their passions by fighting noble battles, rescuing women and finding adventure.
This explains so goddamn much. What is it with these people and their fathers? Their entire interpretation of Christianity boils down to dealing with their repressed aggression towards a father figure. Nevermind the fact that had Jesus actually read Eldredge's book, we would never had Christianity in the first place. And where would we be then?!? Incidentally, in case you were wondering, women can be good Christian Warriors, too.

News From Iraq


The Good News:
Iraqi security forces have arrested the "most lethal" top lieutenant of al-Qaida's leader in Iraq -- a man allegedly behind 75 percent of the car bombings in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion, the prime minister's office said Monday. Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, was arrested during a Jan. 15 raid in Baghdad, a government statement said Monday. Two other militants linked to Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror group also have been arrested, authorities announced Monday. Al-Jaaf was "the most lethal of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's lieutenants," the statement said.
Of course this is great progress, but it still seems like we've had car bombs in or near Baghdad at least once a day since January 15. The Bad News:
The protest in Baghdad and others in towns across southern Iraq, including Kut, Amarah and Karbala, marked the latest campaign by Sadr's group, a grass-roots movement led by Shiite clergy that claims to speak on behalf of the Shiite downtrodden. Through protests, sermons and declarations by the reclusive Sadr, the movement is signaling its doubts about the Iraqi election, ending months of ambiguity over whether Sadr had surrendered his arms for a place in the political process. [...] Sadr's men have stopped short of calling for a boycott but insist they are not supporting the election. In coded language, they have ridiculed Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most influential religious leader, whose perceived backing of the top Shiite coalition has made it the favorite in the vote. Loath to provoke the U.S. military, which killed hundreds of its followers in last year's fighting, the Sadr movement has relegated its militia to a lower profile while keeping up its strident rhetoric.
I don't know how much influence Sadr has within the greater Shiite community, but I do know he can get people's attention. If a solid percentage of Shiites join Sunnis in boycotting the election, then the election will really be futile.
1.22.2005

The Next Episode In The Long Series of Legitimate Iraqi Elections


Even though both the Americans and the Iraqis are admitting that the upcoming Iraqi elections will be "less than perfect," I've heard a lot of talk about the symbolic importance these elections will provide the people of Iraq. The argument is basically this: Even though half the country has promised not to vote, and we can't provide full security at the polling places, and even though Iraqi expatriots aren't planning to vote, it doesn't really matter because it's still an election. It's still better than what they had before. Oh really? You might recall the last Iraqi election before the war to bring "real" elections to Iraq:
Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK Saddam 'wins 100% of vote' Iraqi officials say President Saddam Hussein has won 100% backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters - and every one of them voted for the president, according to Izzat Ibrahim, Vice-Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council. [...] Before the vote, Washington dismissed the referendum as a farce after the last such vote gave the Iraqi leader 99.96% support. "Obviously it's not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Tuesday. In London, the Foreign Office painted a stark picture of the "choice" facing the Iraqi voters: "You can't have free elections when the electorate goes to the polls in the knowledge that they have only one candidate, that candidate routinely murders and tortures opponents of the regime and the penalty for slandering that sole candidate is to have one's tongue cut out."
But apparently you can have free elections when the second largest religious minority decideds to boycott the election. This is why I don't buy the argument that we should keep to the election schedule just because it's an election. Elections, almost by definition, have to be considered legitimate (offer not valid in Florida or Ohio). It's really quite simple: If everyone knows it won't be legitimate before it even happens, then don't have it until people think it'll be legitimate. This time around, we're going to be like Saddam Hussein insisting that the will of the people has spoken and that (of course!) the results are accurate. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will be echoing the words of Ari Fleishcher: "Obviously it's not a very serious day, not a very serious vote and nobody places any credibility on it." Does anybody want to bet that there will be more than 11 million voters this time around?

Sie konnen nicht dort gehen


At least somebody is trying to hold Rumsfeld accountable for his actions:
MUNICH - United States Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has cancelled a planned visit to Munich. Rumsfeld has informed the German government via the US embassy he will not take part at the Munich Security Conference in February, conference head Horst Teltschik said. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed a complaint in December with the Federal German Prosecutor's Office against Rumsfeld accusing him of war crimes and torture in connection with detainee abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Rumsfeld had made it known immediately after the complaint was filed that he would not attend the Munich conference unless Germany quashed the legal action. [...] The organisation alleges violations of German legislation which outlaws war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide independent of the place of crime or origin of the accused. [...] The Center for Constitutional Rights said it and four Iraqis tortured in US custody had filed a complaint with German authorities against Rumsfeld, former CIA director George Tenet and eight other senior military and civilian officials over abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
This is good stuff. The same thing happened, although unsuccessfully, to Kissinger. I think Steve Soto said it best, "You know we have sunk a long way when we have to get lessons on war crimes, international law, and accountability from the Germans."
1.21.2005

Tilting at Windmills


It's interesting to read all the post-speech commentaries glow about the ambitious, idealistic, and historic agenda put forth by the President. For 24 hours, at least, it seemed that "the expansion of freedom in all the world" was easy and without consequence. In fact, without any mention of Iraq and Afghanistan, one could almost forget that half a world a way, the very ideals and ambition adored by 51% of the country, have failed miserably for over a year, with no end in sight. This speech wasn't ambitious, it was audacious. It wasn't idealistic, it was out of touch. And it was far more Quixotic than Wilsonian. How much worse do things need to get in Iraq for people (and much of the fawning press) to start recognizing the disconnect between this:
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
And this:
BAGHDAD, Jan. 21 -- A car bomb exploded outside a Shiite Muslim mosque killing 15 people and wounding 40 in Baghdad on Friday as worshipers celebrated one of the year's most important Muslim holidays. Police cordoned off the Taf Mosque in southwest Baghdad so it was not possible to observe the scene, but survivors taken to Yarmouk Hospital described a white car plowing into the mosque and detonating.
The only reason this disconnect is allowed to exist is because we've become numb to the death and destruction in Iraq. Reports of the daily car bombs are read like sports scores on the news, often quickly and out of context. Flag-draped coffins and the wounded are censored from our view, lest we start to realize that exporting freedom has real consequences. As a country, we've hardly been asked to sacrifice (unless you're in the military), and have actually been "rewarded" economically with tax cuts. But listening to the President, you'd think the negative effects of our actions were just a bad dream cooked up by his opponents. Some have accused Bush's rhetoric as being too idealistic. I don't think that was a mistake. This Administration has always tried to mask its failures and scams in the rhetoric of idealism and crisis. Yesterday was no different. To obscure how massively he's failed at implementing these ideas, Bush had no choice but to overcompensate and act as though he was our Messianic Savior who re-invented sliced bread. It's actually a good indication of how we're doing: the more rosy a picture Bush paints, the worse off we are.
1.20.2005

Four More Years


So it's official: Bush is sworn in for a second term. I had a chance to listen to a little of his speech, and from what I heard, any hope that version 2.0 is going to be more moderate and less Bush-like is wishful thinking. Much of the speech was like what we've come to expect from Bush over the last four years. He spoke as though there were no opposition or wariness to the actions of the past, and issued veiled threats of similar actions in the future. Even though he didn't explicitly mention Iraq or Afghanistan, you can be sure that he was talking about them, and probably also Iran and Syria, when he says things like:
So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. [...] My most solemn duty is to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats. Some have unwisely chosen to test America's resolve, and have found it firm.
And he made it pretty clear just who needs our help the most:
From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well – a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.
I'm pretty sure he doesn't mean white people. I still think there is reason to be somewhat optimistic about the future, though. We already know that Bush won't change, but what will change is the dynamics of the people that support him. During the election, Bush painted himself into the corner with the Religious Right, and if he doesn't deliver, their support will switch to the Roy Moore's of the world. Personally, I don't think Bush has the guts to follow through, and early indications back that up. The other thing to keep in mind is that as things in Iraq deteriorate and the public's dissatisfaction for the war continues to grow, we're going to start seeing Republicans positioning themselves away from the President (not only on Iraq, but also Social Security) in order to win re-election or run for the Republican nomination. We've already seen a little bit of this with people like Gingrich and Whitman. At the least, this will slow down and complicate Bush's agenda, and maybe even prevent us from bringing democracy to another "dark corner" of the world. Overall, I have my fingers crossed that Republican hubris over the next four years will render them unelectable in 2008.
1.19.2005

Blogging and Journalism


Jay Rosen at PressThink was kind enough to post a draft of the essay he plans to deliver at the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility Conference next weekend at Harvard University. The essay, entitled "Bloggers vs. Journalists Is Now Over", is very good and insightful. Here are some of the parts I found most interesting:
The question now isn't whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn't whether bloggers "are" journalists. They apparently are, sometimes. We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward. By "events" I mean things on the surface we can see, like the tsunami story, and things underneath that we have yet to discern. That's why we're conferencing: to find the deeper pattern, of which blogging and journalism are a part. So that is what I give you: my best attempt at scratching out a pattern. [...] When 90 percent of the op-ed style writing was done on actual op-ed pages, editorial page editors had sovereignty over that region of public dialogue. With blogging and the online space generally, that rule is gone. Opinion in reaction to the news can come from anywhere, and the bloggers are frequently better at it than the sleepy op-ed page ever was. Newspaper op-ed pages can still have influence; they can still be great. But they are not sovereign in their domain, and so their ideas, which never anticipated that, are under great pressure. [...] Instead of wrestling with blogging's actual potential in journalism, we have tended to fight about bloggers' credentials as journalists. This is a matter of far less importance, although I would never say "credentials don't matter." Even fights about credentials matter, sometimes. But that is a poor way to go about discovering what blogging means for journalists and the future of the public service franchise. Today there is every reason in the world for journalists to finally get religion about blogging while bloggers get their thing with journalism straight.
I've been thinking a lot about this topic lately, and have admittedly found it difficult to get a full grasp of the issue, not only because of its complexity, but also because of how quickly the gist of the debate changes. As Rosen notes, the "bloggers vs. journalists" debate changed monumentally the moment the tsunami hit, and it's hard to know how it will change and evolve during the next major crisis. For bloggers, the tsunami (and, at least ostensibly, Rathergate--although I think this is more of an example of the dangerous mob mentality that exits potentially in the blogosphere) bolstered their credibility among journalists and the public. The medium is evolving so quickly, though, that something could happen tomorrow that destroys all this earned cred. As a result, it's difficult to have a definitive understanding of What It All Means. Keep that in mind as you read some of my thoughts on the topic. I've never quite understood all the fuss about blogging and credibility. Originally, credibility became an issue when the Internet was just beginning to become a major source of public information. It was easy for people to dismiss anything that was published on the Internet for no other reason than the fact that it originated online. In a sense, the Internet was seen as the world's shitty high school newspaper--fun to read over lunch, but something you shouldn't take too seriously. This, of course, has changed in large part due to the blogosphere, but it hasn't changed because blogs are replacing journalists. It's happening because blogs are a great source for niche information (i.e. liberal politics, foreign affairs, etc), they're fun to read, and they're interactive--often the reader can participate in the discussion in ways they can't with other media. The popularity, and by extension the credibility, of blogs has been driven purely by the large numbers of people that read them (e.g., Kos gets 260k/day, Instapundit gets 150k/day). If that many people are taking the time to read blogs, there must be something there. It might not be journalism per se, but it is something close. At the least, it is something complementary, and not threatening. The thing I find most interesting about the debate on the credibility of bloggers is that it hasn't originated with the public. Instead, it largely has derived from the Journalism Establishment, who for reasons that are sometimes valid and other times petty, feel threatened by the blogging phenomenon. This insecurity comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what blogs are about. It arises out of a misguided generalization that bloggers are, as some critics suggest, anonymous, irresponsible, and unaccountable for what they write. They create an image of the blogosphere that is akin to a Wild West type anarchy. To generalize like this is to ignore a lot of very good bloggers (who also happen to be journalists), and to ignore the reasons why these people blog. The truth is that many political and media bloggers write to supplement what the media has already written. They may take a decidedly biased tone where journalists have (traditionally) remained objective. But this is accepted by the public because it's what people apparently want. As someone notes in Rosen's essay, objectivity is dead. People want to read the news through the lens of their political bias. It's why Fox News is so popular and it's why blogs are taking off. Of course, blogs also serve as a watchdog on the media, which in my opinion, is a good thing and something journalists should embrace. An apt comparison to this is John Stewart's appearance on Crossfire. Tucker Carlson and the Crossfire gang were critical of Stewart because they didn't think Stewart was upholding certain journalistic standards in his role as anchor of The Daily Show. The criticism was ridiculous, not only because The Daily Show is satire, but because Crossfire and much of the rest of the media are equally guilty (and more culpable) of the very same things they accused of Stewart. And this is pretty much where a lot of the debate on bloggers vs. journalism has focused--blogs aren't respected because they're not playing by the same rules as everyone else. The reality of the situation is that blogs refocus the public's attention on things that Journalism either doesn't bother with or sufficiently investigate. It's interesting that Journalism has been so concerned about holding bloggers accountable, but doesn't seem to be equally concerned with holding the President or his Secretary of Defense to the same level of accountability. That is why blogs are flourishing and journalism is in an existential crisis. Blogs are just a lot better at shining a light on things than most media outfits because, I think, they have more freedom to examine things without the journalistic red tape that sometimes limits traditional journalism. It is true that this sort of lawlessness among blogs can be abused, but the pure number of blogs combined with the intelligence and skill of many of the top bloggers serves as a vital check on this lawlessness. In this way, I think the freedom enjoyed by blogs is beneficial to everyone, including journalism. These are just some random thoughts that I've been thinking about lately, so for a more coherent and detailed account of this issue, you'd be well served to check out the awesome Press Think.