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.