Monday, November 28, 2005

what some people will do for an M.D.

People always seem to think I'm joking or hyperbolizing when I bring this up. From UPI:
"Frist acknowledged in a 1989 book that he routinely killed cats while an ambitious medical student at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. His office said it had no record on how many cats died. Frist disclosed that he went to animal shelters and pretended to adopt the cats, telling shelter personnel he intended to keep them as pets. Instead he used them to sharpen his surgical skills, killing them in the process."

To be fair, our illustrious Senate majority leader denounced his felicidal practices in the same book. Still, as an avid cat owner I wonder about the character of someone who would ever do something like that. No treats for Fristy!

And if he ever comes near my house, he'll be faced with the The Ghost and The Darkness!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Our Options in Iraq: the Case for Immediate Withdrawal

Like many people, I've been wrestling with the question of what to do about the troops in Iraq. Should they stay how and where they are now? Should we increase the number? Just leave?

There is no satisfactory answer at this point, mainly because our objectives themselves were faulty and fleeting. As Atrios aptly if crassly put it, there's no way to "unshit this bed." I could go on forever about WMDs and how the objective changed to "bringing democracy to the Middle East" and how the president would never have won approval from Congress or the people with the democratizing objective and the misinformation etc. etc. etc. That diatribe, however, provides little insight into what path we should walk now.

We should start with a couple of questions.
1. What exactly constitutes "victory"?
2. What are the reasons for staying?
3. What is the effect of the presence of troops in Iraq?

1. Victory, in its latest articulation, appears to be the creation of a stable Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq. I would argue that such a "victory" is not only impossible, but it never was possible to begin with. One of the little geography lessons we learned after the overthrow of Saddam (but that we should have guessed before) is that Iraq is composed of 3 major groups, all of whom insist on sovereignty and all of whom insist that everyone else's preferred type of government is wrong, not only politically or ideologically but religiously. It took a heavy-handed dictator to keep the country from tearing itself apart.

The one thing they do all seem to agree on, however, is that they don't want a secular Jeffersonian democracy.

2. Why stay, then? Arguably, to protect and train the Iraqi security forces; to keep the country from civil war; to keep from "emboldening the terrorists" by our withdrawal; to salvage something that, in some watered-down sense, we can call a "victory" so that the troops will not have died in vain. The first begs the question: how is keeping our troops there gonna help that, when 3 years down the road, they have nothing to show for their efforts? The civil war question is also, I think, misinformed: there will almost certainly be a civil war in Iraq, and the longer we stay, the closer we come to get sucked up into it. Besides, what do you call it when a group's violent attacks on the government are supported by half of the people? We call it an insurgency, but is it really that far away from civil war? For the next one, the terrorists are emboldened not by our withdrawal but by our presence there. Also, just having the goal of not "emboldening the terrorists" implies that we're gonna stay there into the foreseeable future, which is unacceptable. The final rationale, for some diluted "victory," is unpersuasive. Is such a victory going to be worth the casualties occurring from now until the realization of that victory? The answer must almost certainly be no.

3. It appears that the troops are not containing insurgents as much as they are generating and training insurgents. Surveys have shown that more than 8 in 10 Iraqis want US forces the hell out, and some 45% believe that attacks on coalition forces are justified. People are angered by our presence, and then are recruited by terrorist groups.

Furthermore, the presence of troops in Iraq has not just made Iraq a terrorist haven, but a terrorist training ground. They get practice bombing and observing and planning against our troops in Iraq, and then they can take their new skills abroad.

It seems, then, that keeping/increasing the troops there is a bad idea. The American people have already figured that out, too: according to the latest poll, 63% of Americans want the troops out within 12 months. There are other arguments for bringing the troops home. For one, our Armed Forces are overextended at this point, and the Iraq War is causing people to stop enlisting. By bringing troops home, our National Guard will be better prepared to assist in natural disasters etc, while our military will be able to redirect its forces to hunting Al Qaeda and putting the pressure on potential enemies, like North Korea. Also, we save money at a time of enormous deficit spending. Finally, it may convince the Iraqis that their country is theirs to lose, and when it's all on them, they might step up and take care of their own matters.

Yet this option is reviled in Washington, and politicians and pundits are lambasting it as the "cut and run" strategy. The reason for this is that Republicans don't want to admit that Bush was wrong and Democrats are terrified of being labelled as "soft" or "weak." This applies especially to those with presidential hopes; notice how so many of them (Hilary, Biden, McCain) advocate increasing the troops, despite the lack of approval within their own party?

Perhaps they're all convinced that the Bush "strong and wrong" approach was vindicated in the last election.

The Truth (gasp!) about the ACLU

For no particular reason, I was thinking about the ACLU and the deluge of vitriol that some groups, most notably Falwell and the Christian conservatives, spew at them on a weekly basis. I remember reading somewhere (unfortunately I don't remember where) that the ACLU, being committed to protecting both the free expression clause and the establishment clause of the First Amendment, has actually defended religious people (including Christians) periodically, but I wanted to check the veracity of that claim. Here's what I found, from the American Civil Liberties Union's own website:
September 20, 2005: ACLU of New Jersey joins lawsuit supporting second-grader’s right to sing “Awesome God” at a talent show.

August 4, 2005: ACLU helps free a New Mexico street preacher from prison.

May 25, 2005: ACLU sues Wisconsin prison on behalf of a Muslim woman who was forced to remove her headscarf in front of male guards and prisoners.

February 2005: ACLU of Pennsylvania successfully defends the right of an African American Evangelical church to occupy a church building purchased in a predominantly white parish.

December 22, 2004: ACLU of New Jersey successfully defends right of religious expression by jurors.

November 20, 2004: ACLU of Nevada supports free speech rights of evangelists to preach on the sidewalks of the strip in Las Vegas.

November 9, 2004: ACLU of Nevada defends a Mormon student who was suspended after wearing a T-shirt with a religious message to school.

August 11, 2004: ACLU of Nebraska defends church facing eviction by the city of Lincoln.

July 10, 2004: Indiana Civil Liberties Union defends the rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets.

June 9, 2004: ACLU of Nebraska files a lawsuit on behalf of a Muslim woman barred from a public pool because she refused to wear a swimsuit.

June 3, 2004: Under pressure from the ACLU of Virginia, officials agree not to prohibit baptisms on public property in Falmouth Waterside Park in Stafford County.

May 11, 2004: After ACLU of Michigan intervened on behalf of a Christian Valedictorian, a public high school agrees to stop censoring religious yearbook entries.

March 25, 2004: ACLU of Washington defends an Evangelical minister's right to preach on sidewalks.

February 21, 2003: ACLU of Massachusetts defends students punished for distributing candy canes with religious messages.

October 28, 2002: ACLU of Pennsylvania files discrimination lawsuit over denial of zoning permit for African American Baptist church.

July 11, 2002: ACLU supports right of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at school.

April 17, 2002: In a victory for the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the ACLU of Virginia, a federal judge strikes down a provision of the Virginia Constitution that bans religious organizations from incorporating.

January 18, 2002: ACLU defends Christian church's right to run “anti-Santa” ads in Boston subways.

Note, these are just their most recent cases (I have taken the "liberty" of removing the cases where they opposed religious groups for the sake of brevity, but the pro-religious cases actually outnumber the anti-, just look for yourself). I went ahead and checked about 4 of these, just to make sure the website is honest (it would've taken forever to fact-check every single one of them), and so far as I can tell, it is.

Did you notice that second to last entry there?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Saddam gassed his own people... with Willie Pete

More complications in the thorny White Phosphorus debate. I wrote earlier about my belief that the argument over whether WP qualifies as a "chemical weapon" in the legal sense of the term isn't relevant, because there's nothing to argue. It's not legally a chemical weapon. Nevertheless, the debate over the ethics of using WP against personnel has been a long time coming, and is a debate we need to have, because it appears that WP, when used in that capacity, acts like banned weapons like, for instance, chemical agents.

Well, Kos has found evidence that the CIA considered WP a chemical weapon when Saddam used it against Kurdish insurgents. From a 1995 intelligence document:

For the record, I do not think that this means the CIA actually considered WP to be legally a chemical weapon. All that would show is that this source is incorrect on the classification of WP. Rather, I think there's a touch of sensationalism in the document (note also, for instance, the phrase "the coalition forces' overwhelming victory-- how is that adjective pertinent?): if I were a betting man, I'd say this piece was designed to convince someone to take further action against Saddam.

What the document does imply, however, is that the CIA believes the use of WP against human targets has the same ethical problems as using a chemical weapon.

McCain: Dream Candidate?

Ever since Bush's swiftboating of McCain in the 2000 primaries, the senior senator from Arizona has been hailed as the moderate, thoughtful Republican. Lately, however, people on both left and right, including myself, have been starting to question the veracity of the conventional wisdom regarding McCain.

My curiosity on this subject was picqued today when I found this from Atrios:
I'll never understand certain liberals love affair with John McCain. I'll set my bar slightly higher than "not as obviously incompetent and evil as George Bush" thank you.

Now we find out that McCain is speaking at a fundraiser for George Wallace, Jr, someone who gave a speech to the Council of Conservative Citizens four times, including once this year.

The CCC is one of those rare explicitly bonafide racist organizations: one that considers African Americans "a retrograde species of humanity," and fought previously for segregation (it currently takes a stand against "integration of the races").

That McCain was willing to fundraise for such a despicable organization's congressional mouthpiece is bad in itself, but it seems like merely the latest in a pattern of McCain pandering to hard-right groups. The Carpetbagger notes that, in 2000, McCain took a stand against Falwell and Robertson (calling them out by name) during his presidential bid, but that McCain has reconsidered such principles now that Christian conservatives appear to hold the keys to the White House. Earlier this year he met with Falwell, too, which wouldn't be all that significant by itself, but it follows on the heels of McCain's endorsement of Intelligent Design and an anti-gay amendment in Arizona (nota bene: contrary to popular belief, the anti-gay marriage actually jives with his beliefs as late as last year when he opposed a similar ban on the federal level: he's just always believed the states should be the ones to enshrine his bigotry).

In a mediocre article called "The Bushification of John McCain" Ari Melber notes that McCain has even caved on Bush's tax cuts, in September supporting keeping them despite rising Katrina costs. Yet McCain opposed those very tax cuts and voted against them previously.

So, how exactly is McCain "moderate" or a "maverick"? Are we supposed to consider him "reasonable" just because he's against torture now, 2 years later, when EVERYONE is angry about what's going on? Is that really how low our standards have sunk? Or on the other hand, is he actually moderate, but willing to sell out on his principles for a stamp of approval from the wackos, the lobbyists, and the bigots? Is that any better?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

CIA torture tactics revealed

From AFP:
"CIA agents have revealed details of six interrogation tactics approved by top brass for use at secret CIA jails in Asia and Eastern Europe, ABC News reported.

The techniques have lead to questionable confessions and the death of one man since March 2002, the network said, after interviewing current and former CIA officials.
CIA sources speaking on condition of anonymity described six techniques: "Attention Grab, Attention Slap, Belly Slap, Long Time Standing, Cold Cell, Water Boarding."

The last three techniques are the ones that are the most controversial. "Long Time Standing" amounts to forcing an inmate to stand in place, shackled for 40+ hours. It is a technique eerily similar to a KGB tactic (also allegedly used by the CIA) in which the prisoner is made to sit in a "stress position" without moving for hours on end. A monk I met at ND tells me this tactic was used by the Soviets against Christian priests and monks.

"Cold cell" involves sitting a naked detainee in a 50 degree cell and regularly dousing them with cold water. "Waterboarding," the most egregious of them all, is when the victim is convinced that they are drowning by pouring water into their nasal passage, and is alleged to be equivalent to a "mock execution." The article mentions that mock executions are a violation of international law.

This little tidbit follows the descriptions of the techniques:
"Earlier this month, CIA inspector general John Helgerson said techniques used by the agency appeared to violate the international Convention Against Torture, according to current and former officials who described the report to The New York Times."

Remember how news came out recently that the CIA has been using old Soviet prisons to torture detainees outside the bounds of international law? Those prisons were being used quite early in the War on Terrorism, as was the "extraordinary rendition," the shipping of detainees to countries that are known to use torture so that we can get information out of them.

Some are now trying to defend the use of torture against "enemy combatants." With regard to such despicable arguments, what Chuy said. As a corollary to Chuy's arguments, I refer you to the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Al-Libi was the Administration's source for the allegation that Saddam was training Al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons. Not only was his information bogus, but it appears that it was probably obtained through the techniques listed above. The use of torture, as the now-notorious Al-Libi story proves, has already burned us once, and it burned us in a big way.

If all this is true, then pulling back to look at them all at once creates a sickening picture. At the beginning of the War on Terrorism, we allowed ourselves to become what we've always hated. We starting using the tactics, the ideology, even the very places of those we villify, like the Soviets and Fascists, and in the process we are divided at home and loathed abroad, problems which could well be costing us victory in the WOT. Torture is an example of something that has been biting us in the ass from the moment we embraced it.

In giving up our principles, we only undermine ourselves.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Illuminating" the WP discussion

I'm glad to see people are talking about the white phosphorus matter. Chuy has a good post on it, for instance, and I want to continue this conversation.

There are some issues in the conversation that everyone seems to be harping on, but that I don't think are particularly relevant here. The first is the semantic argument over whether WP qualifies as a "chemical weapon." I don't find this enlightening or relevant because, though the use of chemical weapons is illegal, the use of incendiaries against people is arguably unethical for the exact same reasons: namely the gruesomeness of the injuries and the lack of precision targetting.

Same thing with the use of WP against civilians. As odd as that sounds, my point is that the use of any weapon against civilians is a big no-no, so if civilians were attacked then the fact that it was WP is immaterial. It would be just as bad if it were conventional bullets and bombs.

The civilians angle is only relevant (and even then, obliquely so) in the matter of the use of WP against personnel, which I think is really the crux of the WP issue. In a quasi-guerilla war such as this, where insurgents are often mixed among the populace, using a weapon that ignites everything within a certain radius is likely to hit some civilians. This is a concern, for sure, but bombs have the same drawback, and few people cry foul in that case.

The issue is whether or not WP was used against insurgents as more than solely "illumination" (which the military admits it was), and the ethics of that decision. As I said earlier, it seems that incendiary weapons have similar drawbacks to chemical weapons, which are illegal to use against personnel. I also understand that army artillerymen are taught not to use it except for purposes of illumination, so apparently the army normally considers the use of WP against personnel to be a bad idea.

I imagine one of the reasons, which we are now experiencing firsthand, is the potentially catastrophic effect on PR caused by pictures of corpses partially melted by WP. And in the new age of warfare, where the war of ideas and reputation is considered by military experts to be equally important to the actual physical combat, PR is a very serious matter.

And the hits just keep on comin'

Yet more bad news for W. One of the central arguments in his counteroffensive against "Democratic" (really bipartisan) opposition to his choice to go to war is that Clinton had the same intelligence he did. Unfortunately for him, the former president, a man who Americans say was more trustworthy, says it was a bad idea:
Former President Clinton told Arab students Wednesday the United States made a "big mistake" when it invaded Iraq, stoking the partisan debate back home over the war.

Clinton cited the lack of planning for what would happen after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

"Saddam is gone. It's a good thing, but I don't agree with what was done," Clinton told students at a forum at the American University of Dubai.

Never underestimate the political savvy of the former president. With this admission, he has effectively cut the legs out from under W's retort. It's now going to be much tougher for W to continue this extension of the tried and true "blame Clinton" meme.

At the same time comes vindication for his arch-nemesis Howard Dean:
Following electoral triumphs this fall, House Democratic leaders are meeting with Democratic lobbyists today in a bid to translate the party’s widespread enthusiasm into cash to fill campaign coffers.

Yet the meeting, one of a number of its kind, comes as some lobbyists are grumbling that they have not been enjoying the same access to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) as they have in the past.

I say vindication for Dean because it was largely his idea to crack down on the influence of K Street (a term for the collection of lobbyists in Washington), and shift the financial base of the Democratic party to voters. In fact, it was one of the planks of his platform in his bid for party chairman. Not only has he managed to cut off the lobbyists and big money corporate contributors, but he's managed to replace them while increasing revenues (c/o MyDD):
As a fund-raiser--the first duty of a party chairman and Dean's claim to fame in '04--he isn't quite the disaster some critics suggest. Early in the last "cycle," in 2001, the Republican National Committee outraised the DNC by a 3-1 margin. So far this year, that ratio has been cut to 2-1. More important is the way it was raised. In the past the party relied on "soft money" from millionaires. But such donations are now illegal. Officials estimate that $12 million of the $14 million the Dean regime has collected so far this year has come from those who gave less than $250. "For people who really look hard at the numbers, he's wowing people," says Elaine Kamarck, a respected DNC member.

Dean is thus managing to purge the party of its unseemly association with lobbyists and such at the same time that the Republican party is growing closer to such ilk and thus becoming more reliant upon them. The reputation of lobbyists and big money contributors amongst the electorate has been deteriorating for some time, but they used to patronize both parties relatively equally, which made the Republican idea of getting more intimate with K Street a good idea. Dean has suddenly turned the tables, setting up the Democratic party to be perceived as the people's party and the Republicans as the party of monied interests.

Combined with the current PR skunk that is Halliburton, this is going to look increasingly bad for the GOP.

More thoughts on blogs

Thinking about the last post, I've noticed a fair bit of hostility emanating from old guard journalistic types regarding the blogosphere for at least the last year or so. Obviously, there's the issue that blogs criticize them often and harshly over their cherry-picking of information and apparent inability/unwillingness to do things like fact-check partisan talking points. Yet even beyond that, it seems that these outlets are feeling increasingly threatened as blogs increase in number and readership.

In my opinion, the reason for both the growth and the threatened feeling is that blogs offer two things conventional journalistic outlets can't.

1. Participation: After reading the contents of a blog, one can post comments, in effect discussing the matter with both the poster and other bloggers (many of whom are capable of providing significant insight, being doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc.). Sites such as Kos, MyDD, and others even allow a particularly productive individual to post on the frontpage.

2. Multiple levels of information: Blogging is, in a sense, a more sophisticated form of media than conventional outlets are capable of providing. Conventional news outlets are somewhat confined in their approach: they can only present the facts, without perspective and without commentary. To do otherwise would be a breach of their "objective" journalistic ethics (though some still fudge that part occasionally). "Punditry," that is perspective and commentary, are confined to the op-eds or political shows, and it's nearly always journalists speechifying on them.

Blogs, however, offer people of all professions the ability to present both news and commentary without unduly combining the two. Atrios, for instance, presents an easily corroborated bit of news (where one can find the article and read it for themselves), and then offers insight and perspective. That insight and perspective is considered useful to his readers because of his education and credentials (in Atrios' case, he's a professional economist, or at least was before he started Eschaton). Different bloggers have different areas of expertise, so in the blogosphere one can read the perspectives of not only journalists, but also lawyers, economists, religious leaders, writers, and politicians.

It seems to me that blogs offer a symbiotic relationship with journalists. Journalists go out and report on the information discussed in blogs, and bloggers keep reporters/editors/publications honest by scrutinizing their work, as well as often providing them with leads for new stories (one such case being the latest hoopla over white phosphorus). If the old guard would just wise up to that, there wouldn't be this undue animosity.

Perceptions of the Blogosphere

From Atrios (sorry about the long quote, but it's necessary in this case):
Copyright 2005 National Public Radio (R)
All Rights Reserved
National Public Radio (NPR)

SHOW: News & Notes with Ed Gordon 9:00 AM EST NPR

November 14, 2005 Monday


Some friends recently asked me why I hadn't set up a blog, you know, a personal Web site that a lot of folks these days use as a diary or to advocate a political viewpoint. I admit that I've entertained the thought of setting up a blog, usually when I'm ranting at TV newscasts or shouting about something I've seen in the day's newspaper. And as I get older, I realize that my opinions have gotten stronger, even if my journalistic experiences have become less varied.

Before I had children, I was the kind of run-and-gun journalist who lived for adventure--riots, earthquakes, forest fires, you name it. If it was jumping off within a thousand miles of me, I was there. But one of the biggest lessons I took away from the many years I've spent in newsrooms is this: Without editors, you are dead, specifically without a copy desk. You might as well be standing in your living room, ranting away, facts be damned.

That brings me back to my point about blogs. Not all blog readers know the difference between pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news. Yes, I know that bloggers lately have been credited with everything from drumming up mainstream media interest in the overlooked plight of missing black and Latino women to exposing any number of government hacks and mischief-makers. But much of what appears on many blogs is speculation, however well-informed.

And as I read the growing numbers of blogs, it seems to me that the ones that have gained the most popularity in recent years, such as Daily Kos and Atrios, are big on promulgating the same kind of back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking that drove me nuts back when I worked in newsrooms, same elite dynamic, different medium.

Some of these political blogs are funded by advertisers which, of course, means that they must, at least to some degree, answer not to ostensibly objective editors but rather to business entities that have a stake in whatever it is the blogger is saying. Thus the veneer of citizen journalist that has been bestowed upon the most successful bloggers is really a misnomer.

Then there is the amount of space that many bloggers spend on minutiae. Who cares where they went over the weekend or how their children did in the science fair and what movies they saw? I mean, if I don't have the time and patience to read such ephemera, I suspect that you don't, either. I certainly don't have the time to write such mundanities or the stomach for having the flotsam and jetsam of my life zapping around the globe, courtesy of the Web. The unfiltered me is fine for my living room, but I am loath to inflict her upon the world.

Don't get me wrong; I do read a few blogs, from Mark Anthony Neal's sober observations on fatherhood and black masculinity to James Wilcox's trenchant observations on politics and social life. At the same time, the proliferation of blogs troubles me. Which brings me to the final reason why I don't blog. Why write for free? Until the day comes when a deep-pocketed benefactor turns up to bankroll such a venture, I'll refrain. And should they emerge, they'd better be fronting an editor, too, an extra pair of eyeballs to keep me from ranting right into the Internet abyss.

GORDON: Amy Alexander is an author and media critic living in Maryland.

As an avid traveler in the ol' blogosphere, I think this woman is very confused about blogs. As far as her first point goes, the distinction in most blog posts between "pure unfiltered, unedited opinion and good old-fashioned solidly reported news" is pretty obvious. There's a link to the article they're posting on (that would be the "news"), followed usually by a block quote, and then after that the commentary. Anyone who can read and think at the same time can see the clear dividing line where the reporting ends and the commentary begins; frankly, most professional bloggers are pretty anal about keeping the two separate, as well as telling you when they're "speculating" (after all, most are academics and have it ingrained in them to maintain some measure of intellectual honesty). Furthermore, unlike with conventional media, readers can fact-check the information they're given almost instantly, be it searching the web for corroboration (it's called "googling," Ms. Alexander; try it sometime), or ( heaven forbid!) clicking on the link.

Her argument about the "back-slapping, mutual admiration society, white-guy networking" is similarly fallacious. I'll use DailyKos as the exemplum here, but my argument applies to many blogs, like MyDD and TPMCafe. Kos (who isn't white, by the way) doesn't do much of the frontpage posting on DailyKos. He is one of probably upwards of 10 people (many of whom aren't white and/or male) who contributes daily to the frontpage content, and disagreements on the site are both common and heated. Armando, for instance, is notorious for rocking the boat, but nearly everyone on Kos' blog (Kos included) is regularly faced with raucous opposition. A back-slapping, mutual admiration society it is not. Bloggers on different blogs also regularly disagree, even ones with the same broad political affiliation.

The advertising bit is false, quite simply because many blogs don't choose their advertisers. They use ad services that use software to scour the content and pick ads that suit the atmosphere of the blog. Furthermore, bloggers regularly disagree with groups that advertise on their site. There are plenty of Sherrod Brown haters on Kos, and every site with Dem party ads does a fair bit of criticizing Dems, sometimes obsessively so. I understand it's the same with the Repub ones. And how can she claim, on the one hand, that bloggers are unduly beholden to their contributors, and on the other that she doesn't want to do reporting for free (and after all, doesn't the mainstream media also depend on advertising revenues?)?

On to the "minutiae" rant. What the hell does this have to do with DailyKos and Atrios? All of a sudden we're off of political "newsy" blogs, and onto personal ones, which frankly are designed solely for keeping up with friends and family. And for that they are quite efficient. By slipping this into the middle of an argument about journalistic blogs, she is implying that this somehow applies to them (which it doesn't).

This woman is supposed to be some sort of expert?

Johnny Cash

(It's weird that I'm feeling the need to comment on TV today.)
Dunno if y'all saw the Johnny Cash tribute on CBS today. I'm not sure if I liked it or not. There was actually some good talent on the show covering Cash's songs, which was a nice change. It seems like usually TV shows sporting lots of music end up being one artist (typically Norah Jones) in a sea of charlatans, but this time she performed alongside the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Of course, they had to equalize all that good taste by bringing on expert song-butcher Kid Rock to bring a swift end to the hope that Lewis would pull off a just cover of "Walk the Line." Plus, I'm still not convinced that the show was much anything more than an extended plug for the new Juaquin Phoenix movie.

Still, it was good to hear some of the songs.

ahh, the Irish...

I can't find any clips online, but Conan O'Brien has a new skit where the ghost of a lounge singer from the 1930's appears onstage and Conan asks him to sing a couple of tunes. They're hysterical. The last one I saw was one where he said something to the effect of,
"I wrote this little song in the spring of '41. Hit it, boys!"
Dum dum dedum dum dum
"Ooooo let's stop fighting the Germans right away
and listen to what Hitler has to say
we should go tell Hirohito
that to serve him would be neato
'cuz you know that we can't beat him anyway, doobittydooo!"

Then, when Conan freaked out about the lyrics, he said,
"That's quite an Irish temper you got there! Ya know, I wrote a song about the Irish, it goes something like this, hit it boys!"
dum dum dedum dum dum
"Oooooh the Irish they have brains that're made of ham
and they smell bad but they just don't give a damn
they're drunken rotten scum
they just drink up all our rum
so they can puke all over Uncle Sam, doobittydoo!"

Ahh, the '40s!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nine El-who? Never heard of it!

From AP: "Congressional budget negotiators have decided to take back $125 million in Sept. 11 aid from New York, which had fought to keep the money to treat sick and injured ground zero workers, lawmakers said Tuesday."

This news, apparently, comes on the same day that Frist wrote an Op-ed for the Moonie Times about... you guessed it, how we need more tax cuts. (c/o Americablog.

"I call it 'Derek'"

Yes, folks, that's right. I am a bastard.

Patriotism, Limbaugh-style

Opportunistic scumbag exploiting people's patriotism. This is Rush's new "Adopt-a-Soldier" program, where listeners can pay $49.95 to buy for soldiers... well guess. Care packages? nope. Body armor? No sir. Plane tickets for their families? Hell no! Here's the answer. (c/o Crooks and Liars)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

BWHAAAA? Alito against "1 person 1 vote"?

Nathan Newman has a post on his site about the revelations about supreme court nominee Samuel Alito's past views. His stance against has garnered lots of media attention, but he has another view that's even more disturbing.

It's about a little-known law concept called "reapportionment." I'll let Nathan explain:
"For the non-lawyers out there, Alito meant he was against the Supreme Court decisions requiring that all state legislative districts be designed to guarantee "one person, one vote", instead of giving some districts with very few voters the same representation as urban districts with far more voters.
You can be against judicial action to override the democratic will of the people -- as I am -- and still recognize that where legislatures cease to reflect that will, courts have a reasonable role in stopping elite minorities from manipulating voting rules to establish a tyranny over the majority.

But Alito's supposed deference to the elected branches isn't about deference to democracy, but deference to the racist power of states in our history to oppress majority power-- which is what makes his professed hostility to affirmative action and federal power and his decisions against plaintiffs making claims of discrimination even more disturbing."

Samuel Alito: one of the greatest minds of the 18th century.

google bombed!

Go to Google, type in "terrorist sympathizer" and hit "I'm feeling lucky." It's beautiful.

My thoughts on the Republican party

Following up on some of my thoughts in the last post, I also want to talk a little about the Republican party to which I've been so implacably opposed recently. I think it's easy to gain the impression from this blog that I'm a partisan Democrat to the point of wanting to see the Republicans permanently swept out of power. That's actually not true.

I'm of the opinion that the Republican party, in its current state, has lost its way. Its moral compass is shattered, and it has confused its priorities; it is adrift in a sea of corruption and cynicism. Figures like Delay, Pat Robertson, Frist, Cheney, and the ghost of Ronald Reagan have seduced them with the power of empty promises and false patriotism. The Republican grassroots are confused, and the American people at large aren't even sure anymore of exactly what "Republicanism" (or "conservatism," for that matter) even means.

And who can blame them (the grassroots and the citizenry, that is)? Are the Republicans for small government or big government? Libertarianism or legislating morality? Isolationism or interventionism? Suddenly Republicans are advocating all of these at the same time, or even worse, advocating one but legislating the other.

The Republican party is, in my opinion, suffering from an extreme case of power intoxication. They have no agenda to speak of other than granting ever-increasing tax cuts to their most generous patrons. They've resorted to corruption to maintain their hegemony, and they're so deep in it that its upkeep has usurped all their actual goals. They sold themselves off to an "ends justify the means" ideology; now the means have become the ends.

They should've seen it coming. History has shown that such an ideology always yields such results. It happened to Soviet Russia, to Cuba, and Chile. It happened to Rome and the Greek "Athenian League." And for a long time in the Middle Ages, it even happened to the Catholic Church.

I believe in a multi-party system. I believe the best government is the one where both parties share power. In fact, if I had my way, then the two parties normally would split the goverment, with for instance the Dems controlling the House and Presidency, and the Republicans the Senate and the Court. In such a case, both parties have to compromise, and it's generally only the best parts of their agendas that manage to become law.

Two parties also benefit each other: when one party gains control of the government, it's only a matter of time until they lose their way and succumb to corruption. Eventually the public outcry reaches a critical mass, and that party is knocked out of power, where it does some soul searching, re-evaluates and reconnects with its priorities, cleans house, and is rejuvenated. Usually, it becomes a better party.

I believe that this is what needs to happen to the Republican party. It needs to be soundly defeated for its own good, so that it can spend some time as the minority party, and soul-search, reconnect and rejuvenate. It will return to power eventually as a better party than it is today, as a worthy party.

Until that day, however, I will remain a partisan Democrat.

The Future, Conan?

I've been thinking a little bit about the President's choice to wage a new political campaign to fix his ratings problems, his "War on Unpopularity," if you will. It seems to me that W has staked not only the future of his agenda, but the future of the Republican congressional majority, on this campaign. I could be wrong here, but I think the chances of the campaign having zero effect on his approval ratings (and thus those of the Republican party) are slim to none; there will be an effect, be it positive or negative.

Obviously, if it works, then he can halt the Democratic march to congressional hegemony and salvage much of his agenda while giving Republican presidential hopefuls a boost for '08.

The problem is, I'm not sure if this result is all that likely. W's most politically foreboding PR problem right now is that the public no longer sees him as trustworthy (as the earlier poll I linked to suggests). How, then, is speechifying and pontificating and finger-pointing going to help if the people don't trust what he says? Furthermore, every time the Democrats call him on one of his misrepresentations (as they're doing now with his "the Democrats had the same intelligence as me" argument), the American people will feel that their view of him is further confirmed: namely, that he is not to be trusted.

At this point, if nothing changes in the polls, the Democrats stand to gain at least one house of Congress, and could possibly gain both. If W's campaign backfires and his credibility continues to slip, the Republican majority in either house will be all but lost, and the Dems could well end up with a huge House majority (the Republicans gained 52 seats in '94 when Clinton's approval ratings were better than Bush's current ones, and the Democrats only need 17 to regain control at this point). The Republicans would then have to rely on a Republican presidential victory in '08 to offset Congress.

This brings up some interesting questions: what would happen to Bush if his worst-case scenario transpired? For one, his agenda in its current manifestation would be sunk. His agenda is hard right-wing, and it as such it was designed with Republican majorities in mind. He would have to completely recalibrate his priorities to stave off utter lame duckery.

That possibility, however, could be the least of his problems. A month ago several major polls (here and here) asked the question, "Should the president be impeached if it is proven that he misled the country into war?" Some 51% answered yes. That number will certainly grow if Bush's campaign backfires. A Republican or split Congress would never consider the question of impeachment, nor in my opinion would a slim Dem majority. The bigger the Democratic majority, however, the more likely it is that they would consider an investigation, and possibly impeachment proceedings.

Would it be the right thing to do? I dunno, it would entirely on the evidence. Politically speaking, the drawback would be that W would probably be in his final year of office anyway by the time the trial would get underway. On the other hand, a successful removal would be a blight on the Republicans' reputation that would take a long time to live down. And right on time for the '08 elections.

What's your take on all this?

Evil little smiley face

Robert Greenwald (the maker of the fantabulicious film Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism) just released a a new movie called WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices. It details allegations of union-busting, false advertising, bribery, worker exploitation, and fearmongering.

And that's just in the extra footage.

Monday, November 14, 2005

That has got to hurt!

New CBS poll shows W at 37%, a new record low for that poll. That, however, is not the painful part:
"A 53% majority say they trust what Bush says less than they trusted previous presidents while they were in office. In a specific comparison with President Clinton, those surveyed by 48%-36% say they trust Bush less." (emphasis mine)

I can almost see Rush Limbaugh's head exploding, reading this poll and figuring out that the American people are saying they want a return to the good ol' days when they had honest presidents. Ya know, someone they could trust, like Clinton.

Torture at Gitmo

Here is a very good expose on torture at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba by The New Yorker. It's thoroughly researched, and the prevalence of abuse and extent of the knowledge of it shown in the article is disturbing.

According to the article, the CIA reverse-engineered the torture resistance curriculum of the Green Berets, recruited some doctors and psychologists to help hone it, and went to work on the prisoners, while the Administration (from Rumsfeld down) mined the law books for loopholes to make the practice legal.

Your tax dollars at work!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Welcome to Chokesville (pop. 8)

Wow, what the hell happened? Tech loses to a team that had yet to win a game in the Big 12? What went wrong? Here they are, back to doing what they do best: choke. Suddenly this puts a huge question mark over that Oklahoma game next week.

At least 7 other ranked teams joined Tech in getting upset this week. Unfortunately, one of those was 'Bama (though everyone knew it would be tough going against LSU), but there was also Georgia and Florida. Oh well, at least Texas and ND pulled through.

Speaking of, I finally got to go to my first ND game yesterday against Navy. In fact, I think it was my first football game in some 15 years. I didn't know any of the cheers, but it was very cool nonetheless. Nothing beats a chance for some loud public swearing!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cornyn-Abramoff tie

Just lovely. As many of you are aware, a super-lobbyist named Jack Abramoff has been in the news lately for all sorts of underhanded business dealings involving the Christian Coalition, various Indian tribes, and a number of state and federal officials, almost all Republican (most notably Tom Delay). It would take too much time and effort for me to outline the whole sordid tale, so if you're interested then just google his name and you should find plenty of info.

Anyway, it seems that one of the many politicians he had in his pocket was none other than Texas' own John Cornyn. (c/o Josh Marshall).

Thursday, November 10, 2005

GOP cancels hearings for Veterans' Organizations

For 55 years, The House Veterans' Affairs Committee has held joint hearings in Congress so that Vets' Organizations like the DAV can air their issues and have a voice in the government. Today the chairman of the committee, Steven Buyer (R-IN) ended that practice.

A slap in the face to our troops, and the day before Veterans' Day at that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

George Clooney's new movie, Good Night, and Good Luck, made it to South Bend theaters this week. It's about the 50's news anchor of CBS' See It Now Edward R. Murrow and his televised melee with Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare, and it's very good. I would strongly recommend it, as do most critics.

Clooney, who directed, produced, and co-starred, focuses closely on the CBS newsroom during the final throes of McCarthyism, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else going on at the time. This is a good thing, as there is plenty of drama and story taking place within the narrow confines of the movie, and any outside stuff would, in my opinion, have detracted from the message. Murrow makes the tough choice to take on a senator chipping away at the Bill of Rights, and the lesson he learns about journalism is that objectivity does not necessarily mean "two sides to every story."

The movie's message is that the event in question displays what American news media could be like, and what it once was, even if only for the briefest of moments and in the smallest of circles. Its relevance to today cannot be understated, and it's painfully obvious that Clooney intended it as such.

PS-- There's a great editorial that David Straithairn makes about McCarthy in the movie. The audio of the original Murrow version is here.

French riots

I haven't posted anything about the riots, mainly because I don't know that much about comtemporary French society. Thus other than cringing at the seemingly ubiquitous "Well, of course, cuz ya know, them damn Muslims are causing trouble everywhere" or "Wow, 2 French groups fighting each other? Well why haven't they both surrendered yet?" type of rubbish, I don't really have much to offer to the conversation.

I did, however, run across a very good post here by Juan Cole (professor of history at UMichigan). It's a little oblique in that it really discusses popular American perceptions of what's going on, but there's some great insight in it about French society (in all its colors and manifestations) that are helpful in getting a handle on what the hell is going on over there. There are some arguments in it that I suspect of being straw men (I myself have never heard anyone say that the riots are the current manifestation of the 1300 year old struggle between French Christians and Arab Muslims), and other parts where it labels ideas as "right wing" that I think are more broadly American, but other than that, he has some sound arguments. It's brief and worth a read.

More on White Phosphorus

I've run across this Army report on the military operation in Fallujah, and this quote appears on page 26 (bottom of 1st column):
"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

So my question, especially to Nick, is, does this passage imply white phosphorus being fired at personnel?

Election Smackdown

If quarter-term elections are a harbinger for midterms, then the Republicans are in deep doodoo. The Democrats practically ran the table today, including:
Virginia Governor: Tim Kaine (a late game appearance by W for Republican Kilgore ended up backfiring and sealed what should've been a close race)
New Jersey Governor: John Corzine
California: after $300 million (the most expensive such election in California history) and a month+ of maddening political ads, out of 8 ballot initiatives the Gropenfuhrer lost... 8. Not a single one passed, and Arnold essentially staked his political future on 5 of them.

In related news, the Dover, PA school board (the one currently in court because it mandated teaching Intelligent Design) got swept out of office en masse. 8 out of 9 Republican members lost re-election, and the board will now be run almost entirely by Democrats. Also, the Dems retook the city council in Tucson, AZ; defeated an anti-tax ballot initiative in Washington; and retained the mayor's office in Detroit (I actually wish they'd lost the last one-- Kwame Kilpatrick is corrupt and deserved to lose. We don't need his kind in our party.).

This thorough horsewhipping occurs, of course, less than a year from an election where the entire House of Representatives, 1/3 of the Senate, and 36 governorships are up for grabs. Judging from today's events, it will be magnificent.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

CIA prison leak

I've made a couple of posts about the release of news about the CIA taking detainees to prisons in the former Soviet bloc, apparently where they can be, well, tortured. There was interesting news today of Frist and Hastert (the Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, respectively) demanding an investigation into the leak, followed by Senator Trent Lott admitting that the leaker was probably another Republican senator. Several points about this:

First, as Josh Marshall points out, this whole mess is closely related to the CIA agent outing at least in the generalities if not in the particulars. They are "cut from the same cloth," as he says, in that they both point to the Administration's practice of clandestinely using excessive and unethical means to achieve its military ends. Despite the fact that all the press for one has been momentarily deflected to Scooter Libby, and the other to some Senate leaker, both of these acts leave a sordid trail that unswervingly leads to the White House, and we would do well not to be distracted from that fact.

Second, leaking to the press the fact that our government is torturing detainees in the infamous sites of former abuse is no dishonorable act. I say that the person who leaked this information, be they Republican or otherwise, is guilty only of putting their country ahead of their president, and should be punished only by sonorous applause.

Monday, November 07, 2005


So is it ok for Senator Durbin to compare the treatment of enemy combatants to Soviet gulags if we're using, ya know, Soviet gulags?

Breaking video on the offensive in Fallujah

The Italian TV network RAI is airing a special called La Strage Nascosta (The Secret Massacre) on the American use of incendiary weapons on civilians in Fallujah, specifically white phosphorus and a new variant on napalm(!) called MK-77.

White phosphorus, ostensibly used for "illuminating the battlefield" (sorta like how napalm was used in Vietnam as a "defoliant"), doubles as an effective way to torch everything (or everyone) in a 150 meter swath. Once it touches skin, it attaches and burns all the way to the bone, sometimes leaving the clothing around the wound intact.

And if you try to wash it off, it re-ignites.

WP and MK-77 can't be targetted precisely, however, so they wreak indiscriminate destruction wherever they are dropped. Thus, the use of such incendiaries against civilian populations is prohibited by Protocol III of the Geneva Convention.

Here's the video (it's available in Italian, English, and Arabic). It includes interviews with American soldiers and Iraqis, video footage of Americans using white phosphorus, and pictures of Iraqi dead killed by WP and MK-77. Warning: the video is very graphic. Put your kids to bed before you watch it.

What the hell happened?

Wow, did y'all catch the college football happenings on Saturday? Let's count up the losers:
no. 23 California
no. 19 Boston College
no. 14 Wisconsin
no. 9 Florida St.
no. 7 UCLA (14-52!)
no. 3 Va. Tech (7-27, Marcus Vick had SIX turnovers!)
As a (dis)honorable mention, no. 13 Florida just squeaked by in 2nd overtime against... Vanderbilt?

Of course, all the important teams had great days. The Irish (8) pounded Tennesse 41-21 (I actually feel kinda bad for the Vols; the game really was closer than the score shows. They just fell apart in the 4th quarter). Bama (5) blanked MS State 17-0. Tech (16) absolutely flattened A&M 56-17, in the first Tech game this season I actually got to watch. And boy, did the wheels come off the Aggie D or what (Tech scored on all but 1 possession in the 2nd half)?. And finally, Texas (2) continued their march to the Rose Bowl without breaking a sweat (62-0 over Baylor). Did someone forget to remind the Bears that they had a game on Saturday?

Which brings us to today's release of the new BCS poll results:
1. USC
2. Texas
3. Alabama
11. Notre Dame
12. Texas Tech
Remember, folks: the top 12 in this poll at the end of the season aren't just bowl eligible: they're BCS Bowl eligible!

P.S.-- For the last time, it is absolutely impossible that ND and Tech will play each other in a bowl game. The massive explosion of my head would cause a rupture in the space-time continuum, irrevocably destroying the temporal fabric that holds the BCS together. In layman's terms: giant robotic winged monkeys flinging radioactive jalapeno-shaped feces. Bad news. Seriously.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


You may recall that the Bush Administration threw a fit at The Onion for using the Presidential Seal for their mock Presidential Weekly Radio Address (really funny stuff on that address, by the way, Chuy's Place has the link if you wanna check it out).

Well, here's how The Onion strikes back (via Atrios). Wow, that's hardcore, even for The Onion!

Fun with Polling

Well, the new CBSNews poll is out, and looky looky what do we have here?
W's job approval rating: 35%
disapproval rating: 57%

positive view of Cheney: 19%
negative rating: 44%

How can this be, you ask? Well, contrary to what the pundits are saying, Americans do give a damn about the Plame investigation:
62% yes
14% no
24% dunno

51% Great importance
35% Some importance
12% Little/no importance
That 51% is the highest number of any scandal since Watergate (and Watergate was only 53%!).

President Plagiarist

So the other day, W finally did something I thought needed to happen: he chose (late as it was) to address the possible avian flu pandemic, asking for some $7.1 billion to take care of it. I started thinking, "Gee, I wish his approval rating was always this bad, then maybe he would've actually been, ya know, doing his job for the last 5 years!" Then, lo and behold, I find out where he thought of it:
The president's request is similar to a $7.9 billion supplemental appropriation for flu pandemic planning assembled by Democratic leaders and passed last week by the Senate.

Sorta like No Child Left Behind.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

High School Walkouts

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Thousands of high school students across the country walked out of class in protest over the Bush Administration. This link is keeping track of all the news reports nationwide.

Kids these days... being all politically aware and stuff!

Quote of the Day

I was reading some mail from Sojourners about Harry Reid's decision to shut down the Senate and force Frist to set a date for the next phase of the Senate investigation into the Administration's conduct leading up to the war. For those interested, Sojourners is an evangelical organization providing an alternative to the Christian Right, a confederacy of churches and Christians who believe in social justice. Anywho, they noted this Scripture, a cry of Isaiah against his own corrupt government:

"Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter" (Isaiah 59:14).

The struggle for justice is an act of worship.

The CIA even has secret prisons?

I know many of us are already aware that the CIA looks a little more like the KGB every day, but I didn't know they were even moving into the latter's old real estate. From The Washington Post:
The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

And yes, folks, you guessed it, these covert prisons comply neither with U.N. nor U.S. prisoner treatment laws. Detainees are held indefinitely with no rights and, presumably from the contents of the article, tortured, even though many of them are of questionable intelligence value.

The article also discusses the covert system's predecessors:
The agency shoved its highest-value prisoners into metal shipping containers set up on a corner of the Bagram Air Base, which was surrounded with a triple perimeter of concertina-wire fencing.
Then came grisly reports, in the winter of 2001, that prisoners kept by allied Afghan generals in cargo containers had died of asphyxiation. The CIA asked Congress for, and was quickly granted, tens of millions of dollars to establish a larger, long-term system in Afghanistan, parts of which would be used for CIA prisoners.

...In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.

Oh yeah, and these prisons are often set up without the knowledge of the host country's government, and when they find out, as Thailand did, it damages our two nations' working relationship in the War on Terrorism.

To toss out a cliche that I happen to believe in strongly, it is respect for human life and human rights that makes us different from those we fight. There is in my opinion, however, another issue that needs to be addressed, namely, why do the CIA and the Bush Administration not trust our justice system to judge and dispose of these people? Our system can handle such monsters as Manson and McVeigh and Dahmer, so why would Islamic terrorists be too much for it?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Take the poll!

I've added a poll doohicky on the right side there, under the links and such. Take the poll, then let me know if you think if I should keep doing polls or not.


That's the current US casualty count in Iraq. You can go to this site to see the breakdown.

I'm gonna put a permanent link to it on the side.