Friday, September 29, 2006

Dems Suck, But They're Better That the Alternative

So, essentially, says Glenn Greenwald, who points out that although the actions of the Dems who voted for the Torture bill were cowardly, control of Congress by the Dems as a whole is a far better option than continued Republican rule.

I can't say I disagree. The Dems should win in November, and I think we're starting to hit the point where they must win if the Union has even the faintest hope of recovering its faded prestige.

What this shows is the same thing that Connecticut showed- that it's as important to get involved at the Primary level as it is in the general. Even if Lieberman wins, he's arguably the hardest target in the entire party to take down- well know, former vice-presidential candidate, and (no doubt) backed by every barrel in AIPAC's arsenal... not to mention the still-friendly media, and the ability to hop on board the Republicans' national security message machine.

Other candidates won't have those advantages, and they might be next. They need to remember that. They need to be reminded of that, particularly the Terrible Twelve in the Senate that voted for this abomination.

The Democratic "centrists" are always prattling on about how you need to "keep your powder dry". For once, they're actually right. Don't punish right now, but don't forget either. 2008 is coming.

Harper Hates Women and Trees?

Honestly, the Liberals' job SHOULD be easy, leadership aside. Take a look at two of the upcoming budget cuts"

Status of Women Canada, $5 million
This agency, established under prime minister Pierre Trudeau in the early 1970s, funds groups, research and seeks gender equity with its $23 million annual budget. Conservative supporters have urged the government to axe the agency. The $5 million cut to the agency in Baird's announcement was described as "administrative savings."

Fighting the pine beetle, $11.7 million
The government says it will cut unused funding that was set aside to fight the mountain pine beetle. The move comes just days after a government report said the infestation, which has destroyed millions of hectares of lodgepole pine in B.C., is spreading. Baird says the funding is from a Liberal program and that the government will launch its own approach.
The first one is bad enough, but the latter cut is insane. There's been a trend in the Conservatives where they ditch perfectly good programs and plans that happen to have come to being under the Liberals.

Does nobody in that Godforsaken party remember that it was that attitude that arguably set the United States up for 9/11? Now that we know that the memo was very much real and that it had a variety of recommendations that Bush didn't even touch, and considering just how America-friendly Harper's supposed to be, you think that he'd learn from that disaster. Apparently not.

I'm not against partisanship. Far from it. Adversarial government works. This, however, is just stupid.

They're Coming to Take Me Away, Haha?

The blogger punkass marc points out an unsavory side effect of the torture bill:

(huge quote, but it's worth it

Much as I like to celebrate the wingnut administration calling itself a moron, Echidne points out the troublesome inclusion of the term “leftist terrorist” in the NIE report. They’ve advanced the theory that the left could start going all right-wing and bombing shit like, say, a federal building in Oklahoma or something.

ANYWAY, leftist terrorism is now considered a legitimate threat by the omnipotent Bush administration. Once the torture/detainee legislation passes, they can label anyone they believe has a “terrorist agenda” an enemy combatant and lock them away for torture. Remember, they don’t need cause or charges to take your rights away anymore (see Photographer, Pulitzer Prize winning). They’ll probably be able to rape you for shits and giggles, too, if they feel like it.

I’m going to put on my crazy hat for a moment. It’s the one that won’t look so crazy in another few years, once the police state comes back into full fashion again.

As Lindsay notes, decorated photographer Bilal Hussein had been a target of right wing blogs for some time. They considered his work too close to the action, too full of anti-US visuals, to be anything other than insurgent propaganda. Apparently, their cries were heard, and now he’s a torture toy.

The wingnut blogs also complain about the crazy, frothing “leftist” blogosphere. Lots of us say all kinds of mean things about the Bush administration, which, as we all know, is a gateway drug for terrorist agendas*. Before you laugh, remember that talking negatively about our efforts in Iraq has already been equated with helping the terrorists. Isn’t that the same as having a terrorist agenda?

Or suppose there actually is some random cell of people intent on doing violence, and the federal government breaks it up. What if their browser histories are littered with visits to Amanda’s site? Or Glenn Greenwald’s? The wingnut blogs have been gunning for those two for years because they’re particularly good at blowing holes in Bushchev logic. If Amanda or Glenn or anyone else is ever seen as fueling the cause of anyone who’s even written an email mentioning explosives, I see no reason they won’t be next on the hit list.

People know John Stewart, and Keith Olbermann. You couldn’t lock them up without drawing national outrage. But like Bilal Hussein, other people pave the way for Olbermann and Stewart, stirring the pot or raising issues that eventually receive their attention. Bloggers are a big part of that group, and their work is at least as dangerous as unforgiving photos — which is to say not at all, unless you mean dangerous to the cause of perpetual war.

I am no one. Punkassblog is still pretty small. But people close to me are deeply hated and feared for their uncompromising work and popularity. Every day, I get a little more worried they’ll be taken away. If you are one of the outspoken pillars of the radical left — not people like Kos who stick to the political rules, but someone really agitating for deep change** — I think you should be worried, too.

*Note: this is not true. Please do not kidnap me or frame me or torture me. Thank you.

**Non-violent change! Honest!
The only thing about pseudonymity that I regret, upon reading this, is that I fear that I may not have been paranoid enough.

For those who cry "tinfoil": I'd hasten to remind you that attacks on "leftist terrorists" and "sympathizers" by the forces of Peace and Order are far, far older than the War on Terror, or anybody who could be possibly reading this. With the right increasingly desperate over Iraq (and likely to become even more so when Iran turns out to be a disaster as well), who's to say they won't turn their ire inward?

After all, according to these folks, the liberal media lost Vietnam. Who do you think they'll blame for Iraq, Iran, and whatever disasters follow?

Atrios on Torture

It was brought up (I won't mention by who) that I should, perhaps, comment on Atrios. Ok, here's the latest piece, and a good one besides:

Memories of Joe

A hideous human being, a disgusting moralist who is morally bankrupt.

These comments came after the senators had screened a 30-second snippet in which, to quote John Burgess's report in these pages, "three black-suited assailants enter a bathroom, grab a young woman wearing a flimsy nightgown, then attach a long, hooked device to her neck to suck out blood." The clip led many of the evening's TV news reports, replete with anti-video-game-violence commentary spawned by Sen. Lieberman's earlier observations on the product: that it was set in a sorority house, where the object was to hang women on meat hooks. "These games teach a child to enjoy inflicting torture," said Lieberman.

Today Joe voted for torture. A sick and twisted man, obsessed with his own image and his desire for Tim Russert's love. One of David Broder's Wise Old Men, one who hates the constitution, human rights, and the rule of law.

The Bullshit Moose's best friend is a best friend of torture.
What more is there to say, really? Yes, the Dems may retake Congress, but they've demonstrated once again that they either have no convictions, or no interest in standing up for them. I suspect that as soon as the bill becomes law, all remaining "soft" (read: reputational and diplomatic) power that the United States enjoys will wither away with it. All that will remain is the cudgel.

That, and the desperate prayer that nobody else ever, ever becomes as powerful. After all, after this, who would weep for a fallen America?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Memo to Jame Wolcott


If this is what you're into:

The reason the L & O franchise wears so well in reruns is because it doesn't try to upstage the city in which it's set...
...and you're peeved about the shift to CSI-like bombast, don't complain. Just go watch THIS.

The Wire is the answer to all your "annoyed with CSI" needs.

Edit: If nothing else, this scene justifies HBO. Very much not work safe.

The Danger of Being Eponymous

Warren's comment in response to my posting on his lack of permalinks (a privilege I offer that he, apparently, thinks will get him sued for some reason) is yet another variation on the idea that potential threats to lefties don't warrent some caution.

Well, first, that goes against decades of online praxis, but other than that, I turn to the guy I called a "better blogger", Digby:

It really takes a lot of gall for the NY Post to obnoxiously ridicule Keith Olberman for calling the police when some asshole sent some white powder to his house with a note that said it was in response to his commentary against the president. The NY Post was one of the places that the original anthrax killer hit in 2001 --- and their own employees got sick.

What in the hell is wrong with these people? Jesus.
Remember when I mentioned psychotic freepers doing what freepers do best? Yeah, it was this sort of thing I'm talking about. It's already a problem in North America- in other contries, like Japan, people have had their homes burned down for saying the wrong thing in public.

And the sad part is that, as this Digby post shows, you aren't necessarily guaranteed the sympathy or support of others if this sort of thing happens.

Do I expect that anything of the sort would happen had I decided to go eponymous? No, I doubt it. Maybe back in 2002-2003 when I blogged more often and had that ongoing debate with Steven Den Beste, but not nowadays. There would certainly be more money in it.

No, the POINT, as I mentioned back in the first posting, is that I have always believed that being able to communicate, debate, and discuss pseudonymously or anonymously is as important to democracy as being able to vote anonymously. It can be annoying, especially for the eponymous who are trading on their offline "name" to gain online credibility, but it is absolutely necessary and is the very lifeblood of this new medium. It's what attracted me to blogging in the first place; why the hell would I abandon my belief in this principle just because someone like Warren, who would be completely ignored were he not Warren Kinsella, yells "coward"?

It doesn't change the fact that despite Warren using his real name, and Atrios not using his (until recently), Atrios was and is still a better read.

Warren Kinsella Doesn't Appear to Know What a Permalink Is

Check it out.

It doesn’t have those permalink things: Warren doesn’t have permalinks because (a) he is busy running a busy business (b) he is busy being father to four busy young children (c) he is busy doing a million other things and (d) he therefore couldn’t be bothered. He doesn’t have time. Besides, he believes in age-old marketing principles: why, having brought people onto his website, would he then send them somewhere else?
Um, Warren? A permalink is a link to each individual entry. What you're thinking of is a blogroll. I realize that they're easy to mix up, being completely different things that one could discern the difference between by doing thirty seconds of research (read: googling), but apparently Warren is too busy to care.

The rest of his "top ten" is basically nine different variants on "blogs are only read because they're free, there's nothing of worth there". It's a logical conclusion for an opinion columnist, as its their toes that bloggers tread on, but since most blogs have advertising, and most online newspaper outlets are also free-to-read with advertising, I'm not quite sure where he's going with this.

Oh, and he also whines about pseudonymity. Suck it up, Warren. Pseudonymity has been a feature of online discourse since before the Internet, and remains around for the same reason it always has: because while Warren doesn't have to worry about his employer finding some pretext to fire him over a political disagreement and/or Free Republic goons jumping him on the way to work, others DO.

Pseudonymity is, has been, and always will be based around a simple concept: that trading on a reputation should not be a prerequisite for being involved in a serious debate. That Warren supports his dubiously-thought-out arguments by trading on his political background may explain his position, but it doesn't grant him an iota of credibility. Digby and Atrios are far better political commentators than Warren ever was, and I haven't the foggiest idea who Digby is or who Atrios was until he "came out". Both are smart, insightful, entertaining reads...

...and both know what a permalink is.

Taking a Shot at a Classic Bit:

Shorter Steyn:

"The devastation of New Orleans was entirely the fault of black people; everybody knows Bush did everything he could. Also, I dislike rap music and black culture in general, and it is the sole cause of the plight of Black America, for it has too many jiggling booties. I also haven't the faintest idea that black alienation might predate gangster rap.

"Here's a black man who agrees with me."

(Also, bonus Shorter Barbara Amiel: "If you disagree with me about Israel, you're anti-Semitic. Please pretend I'm still relevant, like Macleans does." No need for a link- it pretty much covers all of them.)

(Honestly, Paul Wells, as annoying as he can be sometimes, can surely find better company than these drooling fools.)

Returning to Type

That's what the Canadian Conservatives seem to be up to, as they provoke no small amount of outrage through a variety of spending cuts.

Here's the weird thing, though:

"Never have Canadians seen such mean-spirited cuts at a time when Ottawa is swimming in money," said Liberal MP John McCallum. "This minority government only cares about its political base."

After announcing that last year's surplus was $13.2-billion Monday, the government unveiled $1-billion in spending cuts to take place over two years and announced that another $1-billion in savings over that period will be extracted through unidentified "tighter management" measures.
Thus, the spending cuts are entirely unnecessary from a budgetary point of view. They can't cry poverty, and even if they COULD, these would be penny ante.

Yet, for being penny ante, they're an odd set of choices. They're removing the GST rebate for foreign tourists, a program to reduce smoking among Aboriginal Canadians, cuts to the Canadian Tourism Commission, cut the funding for small museums, and (most bizarrely) slashed the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Really, when everybody and his dog in Ottawa and the press is complaining about Canada no longer "punching above its weight" internationally, why on earth would you cut the budget of the diplomatic corps?

The Tories defended it by saying

"We want a more robust foreign policy. But more robust does not always mean spending more money and having more people," he said.

"It's not the government's plan to go on a hiring blitz when we're trying to show the Canadian people we're being careful with their money."
Well, first, that first remark is beyond silly, unless by "robust foreign policy" you mean "soldiers with nowhere to go and no knowledge of what they need to do when they get there".

That's the thing, though. They're sitting on an absolutely massive surplus. There's no reason in the world for them to do ANY of this- it is vanishingly unlikely that they'll get credited for this sort of thing, and some of the cuts (like to the GST rebates) are going to thoroughly tick off important segments of the economy and parts of the country. The Republicans like using deficits to cut programs they don't like, sure, but there's no deficit here- even the Republicans are smarter than this. The whole thing is, well, stupid, and it's been a long time since Harper has been accused of being stupid.

Or is it stupidity? Back before he cleaned up his image and jumped on "the five priorities" (is hacking up museum funding a priority now?) he was well known for being a hardcore libertarian: a market fundamentalist of the first order, who also didn't really give a rat's ass about foreign policy. Could we be seeing a return of the old-style government-loathing Harper, with a side of "let the Americans handle our diplomacy, we'll just send the troops they tell us?" It's certainly plausible. It fits the intrinsic weirdness of cutting programs that keep Inuit from dying of cancer.

And it's an absolute GIFT to the Liberals. It reinforces the "hidden agenda" concept ("what'll he do when he has a majority?") and, more importantly for what I'm interested in here, it provides an opportunity for the Liberals to put forward a vision of liberalism that can be counterposed to Harper's mean little museum-closing ideology.

Now if only they can stop the necromancy long enough to start doing that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Japan-China Rapprochement?

Good news, if it pans out. A lot depends on whether Abe visits Yasukuni, and whether the historical revisionists reap the conservative shift in Japanese government.

We'll see, I guess.

Excellent Piece on the Torture Bill by Digby

I'd highly suggest reading it, but it IS a little lengthy, so I'll shorten it up, along with the bill.

(To make up for all my lengthy posts in the past.)

"The United States is about to pass a bill that allows the government to declare anybody it likes an enemy combatant, remove their rights, and torture the hell out of them with the assurance that nobody will know about it or even be allowed to know about it. The bill doesn't appear to quite allow this, but has enough holes that presidential signing statements can invalidate the whole thing.

"The reason why this is going through is because both parties aren't going to oppose it. The Republicans don't give a shit, because the people being tortured are from different districts and different ethnic backgrounds than their supporters. The Republicans who aren't actually racists, that is. The Democrats are too busy being cowards, and still think masturbating over "handling of the economy" numbers and poorly-defined "triangulation" gets you seats. They can't get over persistent misreading of the Clinton victories, because it appears to justify their cowardice.

"If you're brown and to the left of Rush Limbaugh, or just a Muslim in general, you may wish to consider moving."

And that, as Colbert puts it, is "all you need to know".

Edit: Ok, not all Dems are being cowards on this. Louise Slaughter's stance was great, for instance. It's just that too many Dems are, and that's all that matters, really.

Meanwhile, back in Condoleeza's America...

Condoleeza Rice endangered the health of millions of Americans, by approving and possibly guiding that imfamous EPA "all clear" on post-9/11 air quality, when the air was actually choked with asbestos.

You know, the one that they put out because they placed the importance of a temporary economic hit over the safety of an entire American city? The one whose underlying mindset can most easily be explained using Nixon's phrase "screw 'em, they don't vote for me anyway?" Yeah, that one.

(If nothing else, the very concept of some sort of weird Jewish-Israeli conspiracy over 9/11 is invalidated by this thing. Would some fantastic Jewish conspiracy include quite possibly dooming the citizens of New York?)

So apparently Condoleeza had the final word on whether to put this thing out. She said "yes". She is, thus, very much responsible for what happens afterward.

Let the lawsuits commence.

A tip for Paul Wells

Before you start ranting about shutting down Newsworld, you should stop and ponder what the alternatives are.

What I've seen of Newsworld is like night and day compared to what Americans have to suffer through. But, sadly, an aphorism that I personally find repugnant still holds true in Paul's case: "Where you sit is where you stand".

Paul's sitting in the lap of Ken Whyte. National Post refugees don't back public anything, no matter how terrible the private alternative. Apparently, now, neither does Paul.

I'll Give the Ignatieff Campaign One Thing:

Unlike their candidate, they're very good at sticking to the talking points, including blog supporters like TDH Strategies' Jonathan Ross.

I received a couple of emails yesterday accusing me of turning a blind eye to the complaint filed against Michael Ignatieff's campaign that the memberships of 60 people had not been paid for by the individuals. I was told that it was "easy for you to sling mud at other campaigns as opposed to turning the attention onto yourself and your associates."

Not true, and here is why.

First, yesterday's rants were largely directed towards Joe Volpe's unjustified use of racism to tarnish the reputation of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Ok, let's begin here. I'm not the biggest fan of Volpe in the world- my interest in the Liberal leadership race is that of what sort of vision of liberalism will win out in the country and, perhaps, serve as a center for North American liberalism. (Considering how weak the Dems are in that respect lately.)

Still, what I've seen of the treatment of Volpe has this barely-hidden message of "Italian, therefore Mafia, therefore crooked". It's no different than assuming that black legislators are only killing time until they can get another hit on the pipe, and of course THAT would be completely unacceptable.

The completely different treatment that Volpe had received for his alleged Quebec indiscretions and ol' WASPy Count Ignatieff gets for his doesn't exactly undermine this claim. Completely different treatment like TDH's here, where he ignores the beam in his eye to pluck out the mote in Volpe's.

Secondly, these kinds of doubts were cleared up by Ignatieff's National Director of Operations Sachin Aggarwal, who ventured to do a little digging behind the claims. Here are some excerpts from a letter sent to National Director of the Liberal Party Steve MacKinnon:

"Of the 60 memberships cited, we have confirmed that only three were signed up by the Ignatieff Campaign. The remainder either pre-date the leadership contest, were signed up through competing campaigns, or took out their memberships independent of the leadership contest. The deceased member cited joined the Party with a five-year membership in 2004, prior to Michael's involvement in Etobicoke-Lakeshore." (NOTE: A file containing a line by line accounting of each membership in question was also provided to the party.)

"The complaint also attached a number of signed statements, alleging that "fees were kindly paid for by the Michael Ignatieff leadership campaign." As you will see from an examination of the membership lists, all of these memberships pre-date the leadership contest, making it impossible for this to be the case."

"Of the three memberships signed up by the Ignatieff Campaign still at issue...I personally signed up two of these members and can confirm that they paid their own membership fees. The third is a senior woman who suggests that her membership was paid by another member of her senior's club, not the Ignatieff Campaign."
Sounds good, right? Except look more closely. The chief defense that Ignatieff has is that the people weren't officially signed up by his campaign and/or were signed up before the leadership campaign.

Yeah. Considering that Prof. Ignatieff's bid for leadership far, far predates the official leadership race, and considering the simple fact that as a sitting MP and a leadership candidate he damned well should control every single delegate from his riding, this defense is ludicrous. Ignatieff was in a tough battle to get the seat, and everybody knows that the prize was (among other things) the seat's delegates. Memberships from prior to the leadership campaign are, thus, perfectly legitimate targets.

Of course the ones he got afterwards were legitimate. They're irrelevant! The fix was already in, the memberships already bought.

(Still, nice massaging of the facts, huh?)

Notice what isn't there, as well. There were, apparently, irregularities in a riding north of Toronto, somewhere in the satellite city of Brampton, where 12 Ignatieff supporters cited the same Indian restaurant, and widespread rumors that memberships were paid for by Indian community organizations. Is it anywhere in this email? Is anybody even breathing a word about it, including Ross? Nope.

Like I said, message discipline- they know what to say, and what to avoid.

Finally, here's Ross on the complaints:

Such abuses, if they had been true, would have bothered me, regardless of the fact that I am supporting Mr. Ignatieff. But, as a result of a little bit of basic detective work, it is now clear that these claims are were cooked up by angry individuals trying to divert attention away from questions surrounding their own campaign.
Translation: Volpe's people did it. Quite possibly, although there's no evidence for that. There IS a lot of discussion, however, about the possibility that Ignatieff's campaign was behind the initial leak of information to the Toronto Star, and (thus) the monomaniacal focus on Italian-Canadians that suggests that either:

a) they were deliberately trying to target Volpe, or

b) they assumed that Italian-Canadians were crooked enough as a group to be worth targeting.

Being charitable, I'll assume it's "a". Again, smart communications work, though- by accusing Volpe of targetting, one insulates Ignatieff. Very deft.

Pity that the machine isn't backing a better candidate. Harper would be shaking in his boots right now. As it is...

Monday, September 25, 2006

As Predicted, The Silence is Deafening

Well, at least on one Ignatieff supporter's blog, where the lack of discussion of his favored candidates little indiscretions is striking.

(A favorite, which I hadn't mentioned, was a dozen members whose supposed home address turned out to all be a single Indian restaurant. Oops.)

It makes me almost miss the chattering Dems who were almost too eager to talk about their own candidates' flaws back in 2004.

"The Dead Have Risen, And They're Voting..."

...for everybody, it seems.

Over the weekend, there was a big stink in Canadian Liberal circles over allegations that Joe Volpe paid for the memberships of "instant Liberals", including those who had no idea they were in the party, and a few that were, um, dead. This was all in the Quebec riding of Papineau, where Volpe had had better-than-expected numbers.

Yeah, bad press. People expected Volpe to bail out.

This morning, however, the situation got worse. Not only is Volpe staying in, all but accusing Michael Ignatieff of being behind the leak of supposedly-confidential liberal membership lists, but it appears that Ignatieff did the same damned thing in both a riding in Scarborough and in his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. So now Iggy's tactics appear to have bitten him on the ass.

Why do I say Iggy's tactics? Well, first, because the scuttlebutt is that the leaking of the info was the work of Ignatieff's Quebec team.

More importantly, though, it's because ever since this thing started, Ignatieff has been the one with the absolute most to benefit from Volpe getting out of the race. Leaving aside Volpe's identity-based support from Italians and other minority groups, he and Ignatieff are competing for the center-right in the party, and Volpe has almost certainly bled away votes and delegates that Ignatieff could really, really use to stem his decline. Thus, he has every reason to try to bring Volpe down, and the connections in the party to do it. Ignatieff can safely ignore people like Kennedy, who are unlikely to throw to him and who doesn't compete for his votes, but Ignatieff is pretty much a dead duck at this point unless he can carve those votes out of Volpe's hide.

Of course, the objection might be "but the leak was only to highlight the unique dishonesty of the Volpe campaign". Certainly one could think it was unique, but here's the problem: it ain't. It's rife in politics, particularly in Canadian politics. Opening up every single Liberal to scrutiny would have been disastrous, because it would have implicated everybody, except maybe Ignatieff.

So what did Iggy's people do? They only released the information on Italian Liberals. It is vanishingly unlikely that InstaLiberals in that community would be backing anybody but Volpe, so it was a winner for Ignatieff- Volpe looks bad, and he looks good, as any supporters of his in that community would almost certainly be long-standing Liberals who were attracted to him for whatever reason.

Unfortunately, it was still a dumb move. First, because as soon as it got out that it was only Italians, it became immediately obvious that this was a stunt, and Joe could (quite effectively) play the race card to stay in the race. That will help him keep the minority support he needs from defecting. Second, because Ignatieff didn't keep his own nose clean, and Volpe's machine still has enough power to ensure that the same thing could happen to him. Volpe's support is pretty much rock-hard, whereas Ignatieff's is ephemeral as hell. ANYTHING reducing Ignatieff to Volpe's perceived level is an absolute disaster for him, especially now that Bob Rae is the presumptive leader (thanks, largely, to an "air-war" communications strategy that outdoes even Ignatieff.

(In other words, Ignatieff has far, far more to lose. And just lost it.)

So now the Liberals face a war between Volpe and Ignatieff- the former seem as crooked, but with support that will let him ride all the way to the finish line, and enough support that they can't ignore him...and the "golden child", now sullied and dirtied by the same muck that he had thrown at "Diamond Joe Volpe".

Probably should have thought things through before so obviously ratf--king Volpe, huh? You don't screw somebody over on one of YOUR weaknesses.

(I'd say that Harper must be pleased as punch, but considering just how disastrous his foreign policy has been for his electoral chances, I wouldn't pop that champaign just yet.)

Oh, and in related news, George Allen is toast. Sorry, but dropping the "N-bomb" and saying that you moved to Virginia because it's a state where "blacks knew their place" isn't something you get out from under.

(American politics seems so much simpler in comparison. Primaries really do change things, don't they?)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hail to the King

Remember I had blogged about Thailand's coup, ousting PM Thaksin Shinawatra?

Well, according to CNN, there's one heck of a twist: the man behind the coup may well have been the King of Thailand!

Supposedly he had had his fill of Thaksin, and decided to (peacefully, thankfully) end the situation.

It remains unclear exactly what role the king played in removing Thaksin. The palace claims it was not involved in the events, but the king late Wednesday endorsed Sonthi as the head of a temporary governing council, according to a nationally televised announcement -- essentially giving his blessing to the coup.

Many Thai people, along with political and monarchy experts, see it as another example of the constitutional monarch's behind-the-scenes power, which he has exercised sparingly but effectively in his six-decade reign.

"If the king didn't give a nod, this never would have been possible," said Sulak Siwalak, a prominent social critic and author of books on the role of the monarchy in Thailand.

"Thaksin failed to realize that the king has been on the throne for 60 years and he's no fool. The man is old, and Thaksin thought he could play around with him -- and it was a dangerous game," said Sulak. "He felt he could belittle the king, and that's something the king cannot stand."
Guess we've relearned a lesson that a lot of people forget: those "symbolic and ceremonial" roles have a way of becoming much less so when things get hairy.

I imagine Tony Blair is going to be a little more careful around Elizabeth and Charles, huh?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Storytime, Kids!

From Soviet Dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, in the Washington Post:

In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: 'Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.
So, what's the moral of this story?

As Digby points out, this very thing is being done by American hands to prisoners in Gitmo as we speak.

So, the United States has a ruling party that embraces this crap after putting on a puppet play of pretend opposition, and an opposition that rolls over because they're too fearful to lose their cozy sinecures stopping the United States from embracing the worst aspects of its own enemy. Whereas Canada has a PM who, from all appearances, couldn't give a rat's ass, an opposition party with a leading candidate who is worrisomely disinterested in the fate of "the other guy" (as seen in his little "gaff" about Lebanon) and willing to equivocate on the value of torture, and intelligence services that by all accounts will serve 'em up at will to keep their access to US intelligence--judging by the Arar case.

So the real lesson is "it's kind of a bad time to be North American." Sorry, kids.

"It's Not Just the Economic, Stupid"

According to Kos, the "run on the economy" story is sketchy at best- while there are some areas where they're running on the economy--chiefly manufacturing-heavy regions where the economy has cratered--in general they're sticking to the gameplan.

Good to hear, if true. It's sad that I'm more skeptical about this than the other report, but that's the Dems for you.

Edit: Weird multi-post fixed.

Friday, September 22, 2006

So Much for Habeas Corpus

It's over on Digby's Blog. Once again, the Dems are too petrified to actually stand up for something, even something as simple as "torture is wrong, and Habeas Corpus is right". Instead they hid behind John McCaine, and let him work with the Republicans to create a watered down "anti-torture" bill that, guaranteed, the Bush administration is going to consign to oblivion the second they finish the "don't wanna, not gonna" signing statement that's no doubt being written as we speak.

The weird thing about all this, though, is that the Dems are going to look that much weaker on national security, which is going to hurt them on Iraq... and despite the blather about "running on the economy", there really is no other issue as important.

(Arianna Huffington is absolutely right in mocking the Dems who say that "we've got to keep our eyes on the ball, and the ball is the economy." Somebody needs to sit the Dems down, look them in the eye, and yell "IT IS NOT 1992--STOP PRETENDING YOU CAN AVOID NATIONAL SECURITY AS AN ISSUE" as loudly as they can, as I think that may be the only way they can get the message.)

Yes, Dems, the numbers for Bush on Iraq are improving. So what? That's because he's pushing back, as everybody knew he would. Accept the push, plan out a response, and respond, damn it. This is not ground you can afford to lose. I realize that it goes against your instincts to believe that you can actually have any effect on the polls, and I know that's certainly what's been drilled into your heads by pollsters, but stop and think about your opposition for a second, and how they manage to change perception.

Sure, read the polls, understand them, and keep the data close at hand- but don't ever forget that those are the opinions of real people, and the job of a politician isn't just to react to opinions, but to change them.

Your enemies (and, trust me, they're your enemies- they've said it many times, in many ways) understand this. They've been doing it for decades. Like the guy who wrote the book that inspired my moniker said, your best and only real teacher is your enemy.

It's time to learn, before you get taken to school.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Yep, it was a coup

And it was for the typical reasons:

Thailand's military coup leader Sondhi Boonyarataklin said the armed forces ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during the night because his government was tainted with corruption and cronyism.

The military had to ``take control and rectify this situation to enable the country to quickly return to normal and to restore solidarity among the people,'' Sondhi, who is army chief, said in a live television broadcast today.

The Thai Political Reform Council said earlier today it is in control of the Southeast Asian nation of 65 million people and declared its allegiance to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, according to statements read on state television. The country's revered king is the world's longest reigning monarch and marked his 60th year on the throne in June.
For the uninitiated, "corruption" is what coups are ALWAYS supposed to be about. The pure and noble military leaders are forced to step in because the government is simply too corrupt. Sadly, the situation rarely supports such an assertion, and I truly doubt that this is the case in Thailand, either, even with the corruption.

So what could it really be about?

Thaksin, who is popular in rural areas for easing farmers' debts, has headed a caretaker government since he dissolved Parliament in February.
Emphasis mine. I don't know much about this case, but I am all of a sudden very curious as to exactly who's holding these debts. If Thaksin is a populist who's forcing creditors to either forgive debt or at least not foreclose on it, then his response to his unpopularity will likely be to redouble those efforts. That may well piss people off.

From an Asia Times piece on Thaksin written by what appears to be a supporter:

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was elected in 2001 on a strongly populist economic platform now widely referred to as Thaksinomics. Since that time, Thaksin's populist policies have succeeded in producing rapid economic growth. The only factor that could derail Thailand's economy is the remote risk of social instability.

Replicating the leftward political shift that has swept over Latin America in the past several years, Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a landslide victory in Thailand's 2001 general election. The electorate's strong disaffection with former prime minister Chuan Leekpai's pro-International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic policies was instrumental to Thaksin's victory.

Thaksin capitalized on this disaffection by campaigning on a populist platform that included the reversal of several key IMF policies. The TRT pledged to improve rural living conditions through new subsidized loans and the creation of a debt moratorium for farmers. In addition, the party pledged to improve the nation's health-care system.

Thaksin, reputably Thailand's wealthiest man, also pledged major changes for his country's business sector. Economic liberalization demanded by the IMF threatened many of Thailand's wealthy elite in both the private and public sectors. Thaksin promised to create a debt-management company to remove bad assets from the country's banks and eliminate significant amounts of private- and public-sector corporate debt.

Thaksin also hinted that he would oppose IMF-dictated bankruptcy legislation that would have closed many Thai companies. And he also alluded that he would reduce foreign investment in Thailand to protect domestic companies.

Interesting parallels and differences exist between the populist shift in Thailand in 2001 and the populist shift in Brazil in 2002.
Bolding mine. I get the feeling that "Thaksinomics" aren't overly popular among the investor class.

If I were a Chomskyian, I'd be looking very carefully at exactly who in Thailand's creditor pool is likely to benefit from this, and what sort of ties they have to the U.S. The key question is whether or not this is out of the blue, or whether the military got the "all clear" from the U.S. on this.

(Why the U.S.? Other regional players wouldn't kick up a fuss at the suspension of democracy in Thailand like the U.S. would, and the U.S. has a track record of quietly supporting coups against vaguely undemocratic populists.)

Judging by Thaksin's sketchy human rights record (a quick scan of his Wikipedia entry yields that ever-delightful phrase "extrajudicially executed") he fits that time-honored element of the "elites vs. third world populist" profile. The conflict over the sketchy April elections fits the profile as well, where somewhat undemocratic election elements (principally poorly placed ballot boxes) were used to justify the same kind of election boycotts that we saw in Venezuela. No surprise there- if the opposition parties know they'll be crushed and there's an opportunity to ensure a "round 2" by ditching the elections and calling for new ones, they'll take it.

What IS novel is the so-called "Finland Plan"--an alleged plan by Thaksin and his ally to overthrow the king of Thailand. The blogger Naphat certainly doesn't give the claim much credence, believing that it was merely an attempt to undermine the prime minister. Makes sense, and even if people didn't believe it at the time, it DOES set the groundwork up for attacking the prime minister as power-hungry, corrupt, and a threat to the system- all elements that would be necessary to legitimize a coup and ouster.

So it looks like we're seeing the same profile that we do in a lot of these cases. Honestly, although I don't think the U.S. is directly involved (it's kind of busy), the tactics and scenario could come out of a CIA handbook on "how to oust a populist," down to the inveighing in local newspapers about how populists are illegitimate because poor people are too dumb to vote.

The question is what happens in the upcoming repeat of the election. This is supposed to be temporary. If Thaksin wins again, though, will the military cede the floor? Or will they take more drastic steps?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On a somewhat less scary note:

Go read Jacob Weisberg describe "Why The Wire is the best show on Television".

He's not wrong. It's an absolutely amazing achievement- not only for the intelligent treatment of urban life, the War on Drugs, and the kinds of personalities that you find in the drug game on all sides (dealers, junkies, suppliers and cops)... but because he takes Baltimore--a city that many Americans don't give two thoughts about in a year--and puts its life and soul up on the screen for all to see. It ain't pretty, but it's powerful.

Coup in Thailand?

Thailand just called a state of emergency, according to the BBC. Tanks have appeared in Bangkok, and "An army-owned TV station has altered its programming to broadcast images of the royal family and songs associated in the past with military coups."

Not good.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Perfect Political Ad?

If this ain't it, it's damned close. And I mean "rivals Daisy" close.

(Yeah, another video. Everybody's doing it these days.)

Anyway, this ad is tremendous. Simple, elegant, and brutally effective. Even the veteran's somewhat unpolished delivery only lends it authenticity.

Kos called it the best ad this cycle, and is calling for Americans to give a little to the organization behind it, Vote Vets, so it can run in every state and district where the senator/congressman voted against the new body armor. I can't disagree, except to say that if anything he gives it too little praise.

(Fortunately, even if it doesn't get aired on TV, it'll be emailed, blogged, and linked like mad. Youtube and other embedded video outlets are, I think, going to turn political advertising upside down.)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years in...

And this is still the most powerful commentary about the tragedy. Jon?

I have nothing I can add to that, except to wish he had been a little more prescient. If you want to know why Jon sounds so bitter nowadays, watch this and you'll understand everything you need to.