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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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)

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

Rice has a history of succeeding at failure

Noticeably absent from the discussions surrounding Rice's merits for the Secretary of State position is the fact that in October 2003, she was charged with managing the post-war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We want to cut through the red tape and make sure that we're getting the assistance there quickly so that they can carry out their priorities," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It's a new phase, a different phase we're entering." Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs and media messages. Each committee will be headed by a Rice deputy and include representatives of the State, Defense and Treasury departments and the CIA. [...] The new structure will give Bush's top White House aides a stronger voice in decisions and will make the president more directly accountable [ed. HA! Good one!]. Because of their close relationship, many people will assume Bush signed off on Rice's decisions.
So, 15 months ago, after expressing dissatisfaction with the progress in Iraq, Bush appoints Rice to oversee, among other things, counterterrorism and political affairs in Iraq so that he can have more control over, and be more accountable for, events there. Mission Accomplished, indeed! (Note to Democrats: This would have been a nice thing to mention during the election.) With this in mind, her statements on Iraq at today's confirmation hearing are not encouraging:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is committed to improving "Iraq's capability to defend itself" and that improvement is directly tied to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told a Senate panel Tuesday as hearings opened into her nomination as secretary of State. [...] "The Iraqis will take more and more responsibility for fighting the terrorists, for rooting out the Baathists, and we will help them get there," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She said the Bush administration was well-aware that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was tied to the successful training of an Iraqi security force. "The goal is to get the mission accomplished," she said. "We're right now focused on security for the election." Iraq is scheduled to hold its first democratic election Jan. 30.
I'm not sure there is anything Rice accomplished as head of the Iraqi Stabilization Group that makes me feel any better about our prospects in Iraq--especially now that she is Secretary of State. Arguably, things have gotten far worse since Rice took over post-war Iraq in October 2003, and we should all be wondering why we should expect to get different results with her as Secretary of State than as head of the Iraqi Stability Group.


I'm taking a break from the blog. Maybe a week or more. Probably not less. See you then!

Vote and Die!

Has there ever been a serious explanation for why we need to maintain the January 30th Iraqi election timeline? We're now saying that the elections are going to be "less than perfect," a gross understatement suggesting the only thing we have to worry about is voting irregularities on the scale of those that are common in all elections. In reality, "less than perfect" actually means that there is going to be widespread violence, large percentages of the population boycotting the vote, and a sense that the election is nothing but a prelude to civil war. Any one of these things should be enough to seriously consider the merits of postponing the election for a few months, but when all three are highly probable, our obstinence borders on negligence. The actions we've taken, combined with a lack of planning, have created a dangerously unstable environment that is ripe for chaos, perhaps sparked by a botched election. The right thing to do is hold off on elections until we can guarantee greater participation from the Sunnis and provide greater security at the polls. Honestly, though, I've always felt that these elections were more for us than them, and the Bush Administration's actions back this up. If we really cared about fostering democracy in Iraq, we'd never seriously consider rushing into these elections. Instead, the elections on January 30th will be held up as progress and vindicate the President's motivations and rhetoric that lead us into this mess in the first place. In effect, we'll define victory down to the lowest denominator and use it as an excuse to start scaling back our presence, leaving in our wake the Iraqi Civil War of 2005, which ironically will ultimately decide who controls Iraq.

Macworld SF 2005

If you're an Apple enthusiast (and why wouldn't you be?), you've probably heard about Macworld SF 2005. On Tuesday, Steve Jobs kicked it all off with the introduction of iWork, Mac mini, and the iPod Shuffle. All of them look very cool, but I'm especially drawn to the Mac mini. I used to have the G4 Cube and loved it. This looks about a quarter of the size and comes with all the best features for $500. The iPod Shuffle looks great in theory, but I'm skeptical on how popular it will become. In my opinion, the best part about it is its size and portability, but I'm not sure why it's necessary to have the music constantly shuffling. Personally, I could probably live with that, especially for use while working out. But I have my doubts about whether it can achieve popularity on the same level as the iPod mini. And while we're on the subject of Apple products, you should definitely check out NewsFire--an awesome and stylish RSS reader for OS X. If you haven't jumped on the RSS bandwagon, this is a nice program to get you started. Basically, since I've started using an RSS reader, I've been able to check hundreds of blogs and newspapers in half the time it would normally take me with my bookmarks. Of course, another nice RSS utility is LiveMessage Alerts (full disclosure: i'm employed by them). If you have an MSN account and use MSN Messenger you can sign up for my Alerts (on the left) and choose how you'd like to be alerted whenever I update my site (either by email, MSN Messenger, or text message). It's a great way to keep up with your favorite blogs, sports scores, and breaking news. You can give them a try here, and place them on your site here. At the very least, take a closer look at RSS. I'm certain you'll see what all the fuss is about.

We're All Going To Die

Try not to think about this while riding BART under the Bay:
Tokyo, San Francisco and Los Angeles lead a world list of urban areas that could suffer catastrophic losses in lives and property from earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis or terrorism, the world's largest reinsurance company said in a report Tuesday. [...] With a risk index of 710, Tokyo and its 35 million inhabitants were far ahead of No. 2, the San Francisco Bay area, which rated 167, mainly due to Tokyo's high risk of multiple disasters, its huge population and roughly 40 percent share of the country's economy.
As the SFist notes, maybe this will be the thing to bring down housing costs. It might thin out our traffic problem, too.


Salvadoran-style death squads in Iraq? Pshaw!
PENTAGON "Somebody has been reading too many spy novels." That reaction came today from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reports, published on Newsweek's Web site, that suggest military planners are mulling a so-called "Salvador option" for use against Iraqi insurgents. [...] Rumsfeld says "the Pentagon doesn't do things like that." He also says the type of training that Iraqi soldiers are receiving "doesn't involve the kinds of things that are characterized in that story."
If Rumsfeld says it, it must be true.


But don't millions of Americans laugh everyday?
"Inmate Says Graner Laughed During Abuse" FORT HOOD, Texas - A Syrian inmate at Abu Ghraib said Army Spc. Charles Graner Jr. was the Baghdad prison's primary torturer who laughed while physically abusing him and threatened to kill him more than once. Amin al-Sheikh, testifying via videotaped deposition shown in court Tuesday, said Graner also made him eat pork and drink alcohol, in violation of his Muslim faith, and that he listened through his cell wall while Graner and other Americans forced a Yemeni prisoner eat from a toilet.
I can't help but think that had Graner never been caught on film, he'd be on an accelerated path towards promotion. I don't know why I would think that...


This is funny. "Hardcore Porn Takes Over Political Site":
LONDON (Reuters) - A Conservative party association in the small Welsh town of Delyn is trying to buy back its Web site domain name after it was taken over by pornographers. The site once promoted the activities of the local Conservative association, offering news about area councilors and useful contact numbers. Now users are confronted with offers to buy hardcore movies featuring group, lesbian and anal sex, as well a raft of explicit images of naked women.
This is my favorite part, though:
A spokesman for Welsh Conservatives -- who stressed he had not seen the offending site -- said the problem arose when the Delyn conservatives took on a new Internet address but forgot to renew their ownership of the old name, which was subsequently snapped up by a pornographer. "It was brought to our attention by a student from Oxford University who was logging onto the site to do some research," he added.
A twofer! The classic "It wasn't me looking at porn" defense, paired with the "Just doing my anatomy homework!" excuse. Yeah, we believe you.

The Bush Principle

Via War and Piece: The Bush Administration is bringing new meaning to the term "fucking up":
WASHINGTON -- The man who insisted that President Bush make the claim that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa is poised to assume a top State Department job that would make him the lead US arms negotiator with Iran and North Korea, according to administration officials. Robert G. Joseph, a special assistant for national security to President Bush until a few months ago, is on the short list to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, the nation's senior diplomat in charge of negotiating arms control treaties, said the officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named. Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, who was Joseph's boss at the National Security Council, has been a strong supporter of Joseph, the officials said. Joseph did not respond to messages yesterday. [...] "He should have been fired or reprimanded," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior arms-proliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "We see instead that he could be given the key position in the Department of State for all treaty and nonproliferation matters."
It almost seems like there's a direct correlation between the magnitude of the mistakes made and the level of promotion received. But what do I know? I don't have an MBA and Bush is the CEO President. The thing we all have to keep in mind is that this only seems outrageous to us because we're outside the Administration. From Bush's standpoint, the inclusion of the Iraq-Uranium-Africa connection was gold--it was successfully used over and over again in the run-up to the war, and people ate it up. It didn't matter that the intelligence was wrong, because they never cared about the intelligence in the first place. They only cared about one thing: getting their goddamn stupid war on. Bush's job performance standards are defined in terms of how successfully an individual used whatever it took as a means to an end. If an individual accomplished this, despite whatever scruples he or she may have had, their loyalty to Bush was proven, which in turn guaranteed they'd stick around and, in many cases, be promoted. This is what happens when you have a President that prides loyalty over competence. This, too.

Abu Ghraib = Cheerleader Camp

Someone should punch this guy in the face.
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - A lawyer for Charles Graner, accused ringleader in the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, on Monday compared piling naked prisoners into pyramids to cheerleader shows and said leashing inmates was also acceptable prisoner control. "Don't cheerleaders all over America form pyramids six to eight times a year. Is that torture?" Guy Womack, Graner's attorney, said in opening arguments to the 10-member U.S. military jury at the reservist sergeant's court-martial. [...] Womack said using a tether was a valid method of controlling detainees, especially those who might be soiled with feces. "You're keeping control of them. A tether is a valid control to be used in corrections," he said. "In Texas we'd lasso them and drag them out of there." He compared the leash to parents who place tethers on their toddlers while walking in shopping malls.
Some pro bono advice for Charles Graner: Find a new lawyer. Who is Guy Womack? Only the USA's preeminent expert in Strange But True Law!! Apparently it is strange but true that if you pile a bunch of naked people in a pyramid, take pictures, and laugh at them, you might be charged with torture.

Big Dick is Watching You

"Get some devastation in the back." --Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R), quoted by the AP, to a staff photographer taking a picture of him before leaving tsunami-stricken southern Sri Lanka. The devastation: index.cfm

We're Losing

Newsweek is reporting that the Pentagon is seriously considering a proposal that would bring Salvadoran-style death squads to Iraq as a means of going on the offensive against the insurgency:
Jan. 8 - What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out. Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)
Chalk this up as another brilliant proposal from the "Do As I Say, Not As I Do": Bringing Democracy and Freedom to the Middle East policy currently in vogue with this Administration. It's pretty fucking ironic that an Administration that claims the Iraqi insurgency is acting out of desperation would even consider such a disgustingly vile and desperate proposal. The writing is on the wall: We're losing. Big time. It is only a matter of time before those words start publicly leaving the lips of people in Washington and Baghdad. And when they do, it won't just be from people like you and I. It will be from conservatives like Newt Gingrich and in publications like The Weekly Standard. Even though I've never agreed with the stated purpose of this war, I understand the vital importance of seeing it through the right way. The danger of leaving Iraq much worse than we found it is far greater than the "danger" that led us into war in the first place. A different Administration might look at the current situation and decide it needs to take a step back and reconsider the direction we're heading. Not this Administration. When the going gets tough, they seem to always make it worse. The Poorman said it best:
And, before you ask: no, I have no clue about how we can improve things in Iraq. I don’t have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed, and I don’t hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion. I do, however, know who shit the bed, and have some sense of how frequently he shits there. Let’s stop shitting for a start.
I don't think death squads constitute a "stop shitting."

An Opening for Democrats

One positive thing that might result from Bush's re-election is that Republican candidates and officeholders across the country will be irrevocably tied to his policy failures. Bush is lucky to have been up for re-election in 2004 instead of 2005 or 2006 because if it wasn't painfully clear how bad things were in 2004, it probably will be by 2006. On issues like Iraq and the economy, there is already evidence of top Republicans positioning themselves away from the President. This is particularly unusual so soon after the President won re-election and a "mandate." Two recent examples of this are Newt Gingrich and Christie Todd Whitman, both of whom have written books critical of the President, and both of whom, it seems, have Presidential ambitions. I suspect we'll see more and more of this in the next few years, especially if things continue to get worse. Things will get really interesting if someone like Bill Frist has to decide whether his continuing adherence to the Administration's every word jeopardizes his ability to win a Presidential primary. Of course, this is great news for Democrats, unless it turns out that non-Bush Republicans can do a better job of a) distancing themselves from Bush, and b) articulating a viable alternative. I don't want to get too confident that this won't happen until I see what shape the new Democratic leadership takes in the next few weeks. The election for the DNC chairperson is just around the corner, and the result will have serious implications for the Democrats' ability to shape a message and a platform over the next two to four years. If Democrats can successfully package distinct policies with a focused message, it shouldn't matter what the Republicans are saying. At the moment this is still a big if, but it is enough to be optimistic about our future prospects.

Double Standard

"Soldier In Iraq Prison Scandal Goes To Trial", Reuters, 7 January 2005:
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. Army Spc. Charles Graner, the accused ringleader of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal that outraged the world, went on trial on Friday ready to offer a defense he was just following orders. [...] The Bush administration and military leaders have blamed the abuses on a small group of soldiers and said there was no policy of mishandling prisoners.
"Specter Expects Gonzales Confirmation", Associated Press, 7 January 2005:
WASHINGTON (AP) - The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Friday he feels certain that Alberto Gonzales will be confirmed as attorney general despite concerns about his role in a Bush administration legal doctrine that critics said undermined prisoner-of-war protections and a law against torture.
So the guy that oversaw the legal opening to allow torture gets confirmed as AG the very same day the guy who carried out this legal opening goes to trial. Wonderful. The reemergence of the torture debate has really brought out an ugly side of our culture. I was listening to Imus talk to Ann Coulter (don't ask me why) today and they were both saying that they didn't see anything wrong with what Gonzales did. Imus even went so far as to say something like, "we should be able to slap around a few Muslims to get them to talk [sic]." What the fuck is going on here?

Chatter Chatter

This must be a coincidence:
U.S. intelligence monitors are picking up less terror threat talk than a year ago, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Thursday. A variety of factors could be contributing to the lull, Ridge said, and he warned that terrorists "are strategic actors and long-range planners" who could be merely lying low before striking again. "There certainly is a diminution, reduction in the amount of intelligence, and the decibel level is lower," Ridge told reporters, comparing information picked up over the past several months to the similar period a year ago. Ridge offered no single explanation for the drop, saying it could be stepped-up U.S. efforts to boost security, increase military action, disrupt terrorist leaders and their finances or, simply, the "hardening of America."
Or it could be that the election is over.

Happy Torture Day!

Barring any sudden growth of balls in certain Senators and Congress men and women, Alberto Gonzales begins his path towards Attorney General today. I just wanted to take a moment to congratulate my country for honoring such a stand-up guy. As Mark Danner writes in today's New York Times, we've got a lot to be proud of:
When Alberto Gonzales takes his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee today for hearings to confirm whether he will become attorney general of the United States, Americans will bid farewell to that comforting story line. The senators are likely to give full legitimacy to a path that the Bush administration set the country on more than three years ago, a path that has transformed the United States from a country that condemned torture and forbade its use to one that practices torture routinely. Through a process of redefinition largely overseen by Mr. Gonzales himself, a practice that was once a clear and abhorrent violation of the law has become in effect the law of the land. [...] By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. True, that miserable man who pulled out his hair as he lay on the floor at Guantánamo may eventually tell his interrogators what he knows, or what they want to hear. But for America, torture is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. After Mr. Gonzales is confirmed, the road back - to justice, order and propriety - will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.
I suppose people might say I'm overreacting, and maybe I am. After all, Gonzales says he's done with his days of torture, making it seem as though it was all just an innocent frat prank. Even if I accept this at face value (which I don't), it still doesn't matter because the damage has been done. Remember that this wasn't irreparable damage, as we could have at the least held some people accountable for these actions. Instead, just about everyone but the lowest people involved have remained employed, or worse, promoted. Maybe the message this sends is lost on most of this country, but it definitely isn't lost on the rest of the world--especially the part of the world we're trying to give "freedom and democracy." We really screwed the pooch with this entire torture debacle, and today, god willing, we're going to make it cool to screw the pooch.

Ann Coulter Nude

Ann Coulter in ways you've only seen her in your dreams.

Another Day

Goddamn. Another day, another bombing. It's becoming mundane. This is especially disheartening:
The number of Iraqi policemen killed in the last four months of 2004 was at least 1,300, according to Iraqi Interior Ministry figures released Wednesday.
When the security forces we are waiting to replace us are being killed at a faster rate than our forces, it isn't a good sign. And I thought the US Army had a difficult sales pitch for new recruits. Imagine trying to recruit Iraqi policmen... update: Not like the President cares things are getting worse in Iraq.


Something that seems to be lost in all the tsunami coverage is the fact that it looks like thousands of Americans have lost their lives:
AS MANY as 5000 Americans are still unaccounted for a week after the world's deadliest tsunami pounded a dozen countries across the Indian Ocean, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said today.Mr Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Bangkok that the confirmed toll of Americans still stood at 15 with a defence department worker listed as missing. "The number of private citizens or citizens unaccounted for still lingers around 4-5000," he said, adding the figure was based on phone calls from relatives or friends inquiring about their whereabouts.
As Far East notes, if 5000 people are still missing, most of them are probably not coming back. And a few days ago, Digby also expressed some amazement that we haven't heard much about the seemingly high American death toll. Has there been much attention paid to this? I haven't been watching or following the television coverage of the tsunami, so I wouldn't necessarily know. I would think, though, that (about) 5,000 dead Americans would at least merit more attention from the press, if not from the Administration.

Pimp of the Nation

PusBoy notes the classy line-up scheduled for the Kick Ass Inauguration later this month. Joining Gloria Estefan (which Bush is getting inaugurated?), John Michael Montgomery (who?), and Kelsey Grammer (representing the sacredness of the institution of remarriage), will be the "teenage singer Jo Jo joined by Kid Rock." Yes, the same Kid Rock who, in his passionate ballad Pimp of the Nation, eloquently sang,
While you be left pimpin Barbra Bush What's up granny First name Annie Dried up cunt and a saggin fanny The highlight of your sex adventures You wanna suck this take out your denchers A show of life is all I'm givin Old pimp young hoes is how I'm livin But for now rap's the occupation But watch one day I'll be Pimp Of The Nation
And also the same Kid Rock who has been known to dress in the American flag:


All this can be yours for only $150 or more.

You Know His Work

Check out this great ad campaign: (Via AMERICAblog)

You might also find this encouraging:
A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step yesterday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, marking a rare military foray into the debate over a civilian post. The group includes retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officers are one of several groups to separately urge the Senate to sharply question Gonzales during a confirmation hearing Thursday about his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods.
It's good to see people finally raising some hell about Gonzalez's role in the sanctioning of torture. However, I'm afraid it might be a little too late. It would have been nice to see these things out in the open the day after he was nominated, but I guess we have to take what we can get. Gonzalez should just be thankful that he isn't from Ethiopia.

Quick Math

Today's math lesson is brought to you by the country of Iraq: Where the Road To Democracy is Paved With Bombs and Bodies: 200,000 insurgents > 150,000 US Soldiers 1 assassinated Baghdad governor + 1 attack on Allawi's HQ = 2nd thoughts There are 26 days until the Iraqi elections and it is becoming quite clear that a) we don't have enough troops to provide the security required to pull off this election and, b) we are quickly losing the numbers game of us vs. them. The fact of the matter is that both of these things have been quite clear for a long time and we've done little to stop them. As a result, any intentions of bringing real democracy to the Middle East are now a pipe dream bomb, and in it's place is a smoke and mirrors campaign (surprise!), aimed directly at the American public, charged with creating the impression that democracy is both easy and messy, and that things are really going swell, no matter what those pessimistic liberals might say. TalkLeft notes that both the interim President of Iraq and the Defense Minister are questioning the rationality of holding elections at the end of the month. At what point will the puppet masters agree? At what point will we witness the Flip Flop to end all Flip Flops?

Social Security

The fact that the privatization of Social Security seems to be the Bush Administration's pet project for 2005 is a bit of a mixed blessing for me. On the one hand, I barely have a grasp on the basics of the issue, so recent discussions of SS have been over my head (thus the lack of posts on the subject). On the other hand, it forces me to learn more about a topic that will be very important, not only this year, but also in the future. So all in all, I guess I should be thankful that Bush is trying to destroy Social Security. I think those who have compared the Administration's marketing of the war and tax cuts to their Social Security project are correct. Bush's M.O. has always been to confuse an issue with smoke and mirrors so that people really don't understand why something is necessary or how it will affect them. Often this is done by obsessively accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative (Don't mess with Mister In-Between!!). Thankfully, there are people I trust like Paul Krugman who can sort through the fact from fiction on the issue of Social Security:
Here's the truth: by law, Social Security has a budget independent of the rest of the U.S. government. That budget is currently running a surplus, thanks to an increase in the payroll tax two decades ago. As a result, Social Security has a large and growing trust fund. When benefit payments start to exceed payroll tax revenues, Social Security will be able to draw on that trust fund. And the trust fund will last for a long time: until 2042, says the Social Security Administration; until 2052, says the Congressional Budget Office; quite possibly forever, say many economists, who point out that these projections assume that the economy will grow much more slowly in the future than it has in the past. So where's the imminent crisis? Privatizers say the trust fund doesn't count because it's invested in U.S. government bonds, which are "meaningless i.o.u.'s." Readers who want a long-form debunking of this sophistry can read my recent article in the online journal The Economists' Voice ( [...] In fact, the Bush administration's scaremongering over Social Security is in large part an effort to distract the public from the real fiscal danger.[...]As a budget concern, Social Security isn't remotely in the same league. The long-term cost of the Bush tax cuts is five times the budget office's estimate of Social Security's deficit over the next 75 years. The botched prescription drug bill passed in 2003 does more, all by itself, to increase the long-run budget deficit than the projected rise in Social Security expenses. That doesn't mean nothing should be done to improve Social Security's finances. But privatization is a fake solution to a fake crisis. In future articles on this subject I'll explain why, and also outline a real plan to strengthen Social Security.
The problem is that SS probably does need some reform, but the Bush Administration's notion of reform is far too extreme for what the reality of the problem requires. Of course, this is consistent with other "problems" Bush has sought to "fix." Frankly, I don't need to know anything about Social Security to know that when Bush is trying to fix something there is usually an underlying motivation that has nothing to do with helping regular Americans and everything to do with helping his "base." In this case, it will be the Wall St. brokers who stand to make a killing on privatized Social Security.

Powell: Shiites Will Win

It looks like Colin Powell, fresh off his Times Square gig, wants to get in on a little Sylvia Browne action, too. Demonstrating why he gets paid the big bucks to keep his damn mouth shut, he boldly predicts a Shiite victory in the upcoming Iraqi election:
US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday predicted a Shiite victory in the Iraqi elections, but moved to assuage concerns it could bolster Iranian influence inside the country. [...] "The new government that comes into place in Baghdad, the transitional national assembly, will be majority Shiite," Mr Powell said on NBC's Meet the Pressshow. "That's the majority of the population."
Of course, this is a little like predicting the outcome of a game that has already happened, since we know that Iraqi Sunnis have decided to sit out the election:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Less than a month before Iraq's election, Sunnis nationwide are deciding to sit it out. Political leaders of Iraq's once-dominant sect say that it's because insurgents are intimidating Sunnis when they try to register to vote and threatening voter registration officials in Sunni strongholds. Opponents say the Sunnis - a 30 percent minority of Iraqis - are withdrawing to save face in the Jan. 30 election, which they appear sure to lose to majority Shiite parties. [...] Intimidation of registrants and registars in Sunni communities is one explanation for the low figures, said al Ezy. Dr. Huda al Nuaimi, a political science professor who lives in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, said she was among the intimidated. She tried to pick up her voter registration card, she said, but the man who had them was threatened if he handed them out, so she could not pick it up. Al Nuaimi, a secularist, supports the Islamic Party's call for a delay in balloting. "If we postponed the elections, it doesn't mean we are going to give up to terrorists as much as it could mean allowing the Iraqis to vote in a safe environment," she said.
You can almost smell the legitimacy of this election from here.

Back in the U.S. [S.R.]

As the distinguished gentlemen King of Zembla and mrgumby2u have already pointed out, this is a very bad idea.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration is preparing plans for possible lifetime detention of suspected terrorists, including hundreds whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts, The Washington Post reported Sunday. Citing intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials, the newspaper said the Pentagon and the CIA had asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for those it would not set free or turn over to courts at home or abroad. As part of a solution, the Defense Department, which holds 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, plans to ask the U.S. Congress for $25 million to build a 200-bed prison to hold detainees who are unlikely to ever go through a military tribunal for lack of evidence, defense officials told the newspaper.
Christ, why waste the money? We ought to just kill them, right? I mean, if we're going to completely trash the Constitution we should do so in style. Not Gulag-style, but Auschwitz-style. I'm not sure what I find more disturbing, the fact that we have the audacity to propose this, or the fact that the public is generally complicit with the idea of indefinitely detaining people with no evidence. I agree with Digby, Democrats (and everyone with a brain) need to start taking a stand on the issue of torture, and a good place to start will be the confirmation hearing for Alberto Gonzalez. I'm sure we'll be cast as treasonous scum obstructing the ascension of an (minority!) American hero. So be it. We need to draw a line somewhere, and if we can't draw it at torture, we should just give up and get in line for our chance to piss on everything this country has ever stood for. On the bright side, three cheers for people like Richard Lugar and Carl Levin, politicians willing to stand up to the notion of indefinite detainment with no evidence. They could definitely use more support, so please take a few minutes to contact your representatives and tell them they should buck up and fight this proposal.

Just Call Me Sylvia Browne

You heard it here first. Packers go 10-6. Nevermind this, though.

Frank Rich Speaks

If I were you, I'd read Frank Rich's latest column. Some salient excerpts:
So the soldiers soldier on, and we party on. As James Dao wrote in The New York Times, "support our troops" became a verbal touchstone in 2004, yet "only for a minuscule portion of the populace, mainly those with loved ones overseas, does it have anything to do with sacrifice." Quite the contrary: we have our tax cuts, and a president who promises to make them permanent. Such is the disconnect between the country and the war that there is no national outrage when the president awards the Medal of Freedom to the clowns who undermined the troops by bungling intelligence (George Tenet) and Iraqi support (Paul Bremer). Such is the disconnect that Washington and the news media react with slack-jawed shock when one of those good soldiers we support so much speaks up at a town hall meeting in Kuwait and asks the secretary of defense why vehicles that take him and his brothers into battle lack proper armor. [...] The ethos could hardly have been more different during the World War II so frequently invoked by Mr. Bush. As David Brinkley recounted in his 1988 history, "Washington Goes to War," the Roosevelt administration's first big push "was a tremendous voluntary program to reduce the deficit, encourage saving, trim spending and thus curb inflation - the sale of war bonds." Though bonds would not in the end pay for the war - that would require the sacrifice of paying taxes - F.D.R. believed that his campaign "would give the public a sense of involvement in a war being fought thousands of miles away, a war so distant many Americans had difficulty at times remembering it was there at all." Gen. George Marshall, the Army's chief of staff, took it on himself to write notes by hand to the family of each man killed in battle until the volume forced the use of Western Union telegrams. [...] Washington's next celebration will be the inauguration. Roosevelt decreed that the usual gaiety be set aside at his wartime inaugural in January 1945. There will be no such restraint in the $40 million, four-day extravaganza planned this time, with its top ticket package priced at $250,000. The official theme of the show is "Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service." That's no guarantee that the troops in Iraq will get armor, but Washington will, at least, give home-front military personnel free admission to one of the nine inaugural balls and let them eat cake.
I'd love to know how we can fix this disconnect, especially since our outrage bar has been raised so high that we're virtually blind to everything wrong with this war and Administration.

Gay Adoption

It is unfortunate that in the year 2005 we have to have a court battle about whether homosexuals are fit to adopt children. Fortunately, the activist judges courts are making the right decisions:
In his ruling Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox said the ban enacted by an Arkansas state agency in 1999 had nothing to do with protecting children's health or welfare, but instead was an attempt to regulate "public morality," which is beyond the agency's authority. Fox also issued a series of findings, based on testimony by child welfare and mental health experts: -- Children of lesbian and gay parents are as well-adjusted as other children. -- Being raised by lesbian or gay parents doesn't increase a child's risk of psychological, behavior or academic problems, confusion about gender identity, difficulties in relating to peers, or child abuse. -- There is no evidence that heterosexual parents can guide children through adolescence any better than homosexual parents can. The issue of whether parents' sexual orientation affects children's well- being is critical not only to the Arkansas case -- which is headed for an appellate court -- but also to a case before the U.S. Supreme Court over Florida's ban on adoptions by lesbians or gays. It could also affect a case in San Francisco Superior Court on California's ban on same-sex marriage. [...] But officials in Arkansas and Florida argue that the ideal situation for a child, which a state is entitled to promote in its laws, is to be raised by a mother and father. That position was endorsed by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that upheld a Florida law banning adoption by any gay, lesbian or bisexual. The state has a legitimate interest in "promoting an optimal social structure for educating, socializing and preparing its future citizens to become productive participants in civil society," the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last January. For an adopted child, the court said, an "optimal home" is "one in which there is a heterosexual couple or the potential for one." [...] "We have never argued that it was detrimental to children to be placed with homosexuals but just that it would not be optimal," said Julie Munsell, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Foster children in such homes would be under stress, she said, "because the social climate in our state has not been accepting of those lifestyles."
The issue here is whether homosexual parents can provide an optimal environment for raising children. Those arguing that it isn't are arguing solely on the basis of moral prejudices, because if they were looking at the situation rationally, they would realize that it isn't about the gender make-up of your parents, it's about the love and attention you give your child. If two men or two women can raise a child in a loving and supportive environment there is no reason why they shouldn't be able to adopt children. Like the issue of gay marriage, the slippery slope in this case is pretty steep. If we aren't going to allow homosexual adoptive parents because they won't provide an optimal environment for raising children, we should be more stringent on heterosexuals that can't provide an "optimal environment." Example: "Oh, you work 80 hours/week? It's not that it's bad, its just that it isn't optimal. Sorry." Of course, the real problem in this country is that there are already more kids up for adoption than interested parents. Then why should we be denying perfectly good parents the right to adopt children solely on the basis of their sexual orientation?