Monday, December 13, 2004

No, I'm not gone

But I suspect that the American political system is. The Democratic party is thoroughly destroying itself by letting its opponents define it and having its elites leap at the chance to help, and the Republicans are preparing to run the country into the ground in order to kill the New Deal, just as Norquist always advocated.

(Yes, that's what "Social Security reform" is. They'll screw it up, exploit free market theology to say that it's the governmental control of it that's the problem, and get rid of the rest. Probably while drumming up some example of "social decay" to distract the public juuust long enough. Without Social Security, killing the rest is easy.)

On the Dems being "too soft": didn't we learn this lesson in 2002? Saying "I'll do what the other guy does, only better" doesn't work. Period. It's just the trailing end of moving the goalposts. The desperate flailings of the DLC in its attempts to explain its own ineptitude don't change that. Nor, for that matter, does the liberal hawks wishing that they could ignore reality as well as the Republicans (so they could sleep at night knowing that the rest of the world thinks that America just voted to torture Arabs).

Sunday, November 14, 2004

CIA purging

One of the most unfortunate parts of this past election is that we're clearly never going to find out just how badly the prewar intelligence was subject to political interference.

The only thing we can surmise, however, is that things are just going to get worse.

The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources."

The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."
The CIA? A hotbed of liberals? Compared to who, exactly? "Liberal" here must mean "apolitical professional", many of whom have looked at the ideological blinders in the White House with horror. The only people left will be true believers, people who have demonstrated (through the Iraq blunders and the Chalabi debacle) that they're singularly unfit to handle this issue.

And intelligence is the key weapon against terrorism. Straight-up warfare is of dubious usefulness at best without it, and coordination between intelligence and law enforcement is the best way of really stopping problems before they start. It's not like the U.S. can invade Spain just because Al Qaeda may have some cells there.

I'm reminded of Alan Rickman's famous line in Die Hard, when all his plans were brought to fruition. "You want a miracle, gentlemen? I give you the F...B...I."

Osama needs a miracle to succeed.

We gave him B...U...S...H.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Election Thoughts

Would have posted yesterday, but blogger was haywire throughout most of the day.

Don't have much time, so I'll just say this: This was not a victory for Bush's foreign policy, for his economic policy, or the war on terrorism... not really. It was his failures in those that boosted turnout on the left, and that should have defeated him.

Instead, this was a victory for social conservativism- specifically, the hatred and loathing of homosexuals that is bubbling under the surface of far too much of the United States for the rest's comfort. Forget Queer Eye, metrosexuality, lesbian chic and the rest... a significant minority (if not a majority) of Americans have shown outright hostility towards a group that consists of 10-12% of the American population. Rove was right about an aspect of American society that many, many people (including myself) had dismissed as too disturbing and outlandish to take seriously.

More broadly, it illustrates the dual nature of American society- that it is the fusion of the Enlightenment and of Puritanism. The latter was perceived as dying, as America moved in the same secular direction as the rest of the world, comfortably protected by the declared seperation of church and state. This was in error. Religiosity in the United States is very much alive.

The Republican party isn't going to forget this, and how useful it was. They'll milk this for as long as possible, and the Democrats aren't going to get around it by embracing the religious right. They'll be painted as faithless libruls, no matter what.

Osama Bin Laden won't forget this. Although I doubt he cares much about gays, he and his ideological brethren can easily spin this as proof that the "war of civilizations" is not between the "secular West" and "Islamic fundamentalism", but between American and Islamic fundamentalisms, differing only in which religion they assert is the One True Faith.

Moslems in general won't forget this. They'll see it as an endorsement of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, and to the extent that it wasn't a repudiation of such, they'll be right.

Europe won't forget this. Every leader in secular Europe is going to array themselves against the American religious right, and benefit handsomely from it.

Canada won't forget this. North America just got a lot lonelier for Canada. Canadian and American values are diverging, but I don't think either Canada or the United States had fully realized just how much. Canada's past election was a repudiation of overt religiosity- the American one embraced it.

In the meantime, expect American gays to get the message, loud and clear... and expect the division between the United States and the rest of the world to become a gulf. Huntington may indeed have been right about the Clash of Civilizations what he didn't anticipate was that the United States would end up being its own.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Election

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, or who I'd vote for. My preference for presidential candidate is pretty obvious to those who have read the site over the last three years.

I'm not going to tell you who I think the winner will be; those sorts of projections are pretty much pointless at this point, although I do think that the high turnout that we're seeing (see Kos for that) does suggest a certain outcome.

What I WILL tell you is that this election may be taking place in the United States, but it has global ramifications; not only in its effects on those who are the targets (recipients? beneficiaries? victims?) of U.S. foreign policy, but on the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. The United States is divided, but the rest of the world isn't, not really, and if legitimacy is conferred on the victor that was lacking the last time around, it will serve as an endorsement, in the eyes of the world, of that victor's foreign policy goals.

There is no division between the people and the leader, not anymore. American politics does not stop at the water's edge and very possibly never will again. It's too outwardly focused, and if 9/11 did actually change anything, it's that.

In some respects, though, this election is also the culmination of my blogging career. (Bean pointed out in comments that I hadn't been commenting on the election much... that's not because I consider it unimportant, but because of the normal posting issues that I've been grappling with.) More that anything, this site has been dedicated to the effects that online "conservatarians" have had on American political discourse, and American foreign policy.

We've seen the growth of the so-called "Mighty Wurlitzer" and its ultimate expression in the policies (and spin) of the Bush administration. We've also seen the growth of a contrary force, largely based and built online, that has been key to the closeness of this race. Atrios called it the "mighty Casio"... it's smaller, tinnier, and quieter, but it kept on sounding dissonant notes that continually threw the Wurlitzer off. Both were really aimed towards this election, because the "Wurlitzer" is aimed at giving Bush a second term unconstrained by the threat of defeat and the "Casio" in repudiating and arresting the forces that gave him the presidency in the first place.

Thus, although I don't plan to go anywhere, this election is going to--by necessity--change my focus to documenting and analyzing the victorious force's rise and effects.

I think I know which force that's going to be.

I know I hope which one it will be.

Regardless, however, all I can do at this point is watch, and wait, and hope.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Spoke too soon?

In contradiction to my post below, apparently at least Martini Republic agrees with the "Osama knew that this would be used to help Bush" theory.

Edit: Never mind. It looks like I wasn't the only one rousted into posting by Osama. Billmon is back.

By the way, I hadn't really weighed in on Billmon's attack on the professionalization of blogging. (Not linked- AFAIK it isn't available in a public archive). I had mentioned that the massive concentration on a few key sites was a problem, but I don't buy that it's ruining blogging, just that it has lead to somewhat of a "rich get richer, poor get poorer" distribution of eyeballs on the left. Atrios and Kos have their huge audiences largely because they're excellent commentators and update constantly. Many other worthy bloggers don't fit either the former or latter criterion (largely the latter), and that's natural enough as well. A professional needs to be both, but blogger isn't going anywhere, and as long as it's around so will the larger community.

The Obvious..

I'm going to say it, even if others aren't. (Atrios, for example, at least whilst commenting on the laughable antics of NRO and other Bush surrogates.)

Osama Bin Laden is stumping for George W. Bush.


Full stop.

He knows his appearance could be (and likely would be) spun as a boost to Bush, he's clearly quite aware that the election is coming shortly, and knows that by attacking Bush he's helping Bush make his case. In fact, by aligning his critiques with those of Michael Moore and Kerry (the "Pet Goat" bit, for example), he's subtly ensuring that they'll be seen as discredited.

(Note that I say "seen" for a reason- the point Moore made is in no way modified by its adoption by Bin Laden months later. )

He also knows that the Bush surrogates would try to catch Kerry in a bind, arguing that critics should "get behind the president" in the face of the attack. They would try (and are trying) to resurrect the "politics stopping at the water's edge" idea that they themselves discredited in 2002. The Democrats could never do this to the Republicans, as they'd screech "wag the dog" and keep right on attacking... but the Democrats' astonishing growth of spirit and backbone has only gone so far. The fearfulness and tentativeness of 2002 still lurks in the background.

(Additional Note: None of this should be construed to mean that the tape actually should help Bush, just that it can be used as a tool to do so. The media wants Bush to win, both because a Kerry win would undermine the polling and narratives that they've built up and because there's a lot of personal animosity between the media and the "patrician" (and vaguely wonkish) Kerry. Thus, if something can be spun in favor of Bush, it will be.)

Osama Bin Laden wants George W. Bush to win. The reasons are endless and obvious, even if the Republicans want to pull the wool for just a few more days. Bin Laden is closer to his goals than ever, and knows it. He wants Bush to win, and saw that it wasn't happening. Rove didn't have an October surprise, so Osama provided it.

The old saw of 2001 has returned. If George W. Bush is elected president next Tuesday, the Bin Laden has won.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Guess the quote- not just for Atrios anymore

I'll provide the answer, though.

"If you attack your opponent wildly, ruthlessly, they will come to their own conclusions. "

Where is it from? David Brooks.

Unfortunately, he's talking about Kerry.

Gotta love Republican projection, huh?

Title Change

Just changed the title. Why not? The "RBC" bit is about the funniest, most cogent remark on this whole bizarre drama thus far.

(For those who don't recognize it, it's from this Ron Suskind article about Pres. Bush and his "faith-based" presidency.)

Friday, October 15, 2004

"Even If You Photoshop, You're Still Retarded"

A quick heads-up for those (like Steve Clemons and Josh Marshall) who are tracking with the distribution of a flyer in Tennessee, blamed on Democratic candidate Craig Fitzhugh, saying "Voting for Bush is like running in the special olympics; even if you win you're still retarded".

The flyer is a simple photoshop modification of another one that says "arguing on the internet is....", adding the new text and placing Bush's head on the original special olympian (you can tell the font difference for the former.) The original was almost certainly created by someone on a long number of years back. It is not original.

This doesn't necessarily mean anything, of course, but I think it implies pretty heavily that it was a rush job that has nothing to do with the organized campaigns. Both the Dems and Repubs have much more (and better) talent on board than this hack job would indicate. It does NOT indicate any connection with Something Awful, as that image has been floating around for years. It is possible that it may have been made deliberately poorly in order to insulate the creators from criticism, but that seems very unlikely, at least for Craig Fitzhugh's office- they would know that they would get blamed no matter how bad the job. I also don't buy that the local campaign would be as tech savvy as even this relatively poor job would indicate, or would want to waste their time.

So, my take is that this was the work of a small, somewhat knowledgable Bush-sympathetic group trying to stir up trouble for the other side. Young Republicans, most likely, as they fit the profile of someone who knows a little bit about things like photoshop, but not enough to match the font and carefully blend Bush's head into the photo--as a professional or skilled hobbyist would-- as they'd be more focused on, well, politics.

In other words, Ratfucker trainees.

(Of course, I'm not a freeper, so I doubt this will get picked up by the SCLM.)

Edit: All over the wingnut blogs there are breathless accounts from people who have supposedly picked these flyers up at Fitzhugh HQ. I don't buy it; you can find people willing to back ANYTHING that will hurt a candidate they don't like, and Fitzhugh's involvement still doesn't make much sense. It could have happened, of course, and it would have been in extremely poor taste and deserve condemnation (much like, say, the RNC "democrats hate christianity" flyer did). I just can't see how it'd be useful, especially having them distributed at Fitzhugh HQ. That's just not how this sort of thing works.

Let's be honest, though- compared to what gets said about Kerry, Democrats, and liberals in general, this would be lightweight. Do "vote for Kerry and die screaming" Republicans really want to get into a shouting match over poor taste in advertising?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Kerry Leads

According to Newsweek, it's now a statistical tie with Kerry ahead 47-45. Plus, Newsweek has picked their narrative, and it's "The debate changed the perceptions of the candidates:"
In fact, Kerry’s numbers have improved across the board, while Bush’s
vulnerabilities have become more pronounced. The senator is seen as more
intelligent and well-informed (80 percent, up six points over last month,
compared to Bush’s steady 59 percent); as having strong leadership skills (56
percent, also up 6 points, but still less than Bush’s 62 percent) and as someone
who can be trusted to make the right calls in an international crisis (51
percent, up five points and tied with Bush).

If Newsweek is saying this, others will follow. The media loves comebacks and dramatic changes, and the debate provided both. Those that aren't completely following the RNC line will at least include this interpretation. Anybody reporting on bloggers would be forced to do the same, considering the weak right-wing response.

Now on to Tuesday....

Friday, October 01, 2004

Kerry Won

Yeah, there's no question about it. The only hole that Bush opened was, possibly, that "joining a war you called a mistake" bit, but other than that Kerry dominated it. He was pulling out EVERYTHING that the Republicans and Bush had screwed up, and Bush wasn't really able to rebut any of it.

More importantly, Bush's big "strength" here is his biggest weakness. He was consistent, and there's no doubt he intended to be. Kerry, however, did a fantastic job of saying that there's nothing good about being consistently wrong, and thus has opened the door to the Dems and 527s saying that Bush's consistency is due to his being completely out of touch. Since that hits Bush's greatest weakness, his competency, MoveOn and the rest can tear great chunks out of Dubya's hide.

The most surprising aspect for me? The image control was better on the Kerry side. Bush was smirking, leaning, interrupting, and looked just as bored and annoyed as his dad did in 1992. Kerry, on the other hand, simply smiled, as if to say "go ahead and say that, because I'll make you eat it". Then he did make Bush eat it. Again, and again, and again. The Republicans have practically nothing to run on from the image angle, and that's how they reversed Bush v. Gore.

(Then again, the online Dems aren't going to let them get away with it this time. The media knows Kerry dominated, but can't really say it... but they CAN quote those funny bloggers, and those funny bloggers know the score and will keep screaming at them until they admit it.)

This is a good base to build on, folks. Now on to making sure that the spin war is won by the good guys.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

No Debates?

Perhaps I spoke too soon. From the note:

A senior Republican official tells ABC News' Jonathan Karl that the first presidential debate, scheduled for Thursday in Miami, could be canceled unless there is a breakthrough soon in negotiations between the two campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The only remaining sticking point, Karl reports, is the reluctance of the Commission on Presidential Debates to sign the agreement negotiated by the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

The commission and the campaigns have been negotiating a side letter the commission (and moderators) would sign instead of the agreement, but the Bush campaign finds the current draft of the letter too weakly worded.

....A senior official with the Commission on Presidential Debates says the debates are in jeopardy and puts the blame squarely on the Bush campaign, Karl reports. "If they don't want to debate, that's fine. They can tell the world why the don't want to debate," the official told ABC News. "If they decide to pull out, it's on them."

I'm not sure what effect this would have... the Bush campaign would probably get a decent reaction if it decided to blame the media, but I don't know whether or not swing and undecided voters would bite. (Base Democrats would blame him, base Republicans would blame the media, so they wouldn't enter into this.)

The trip through the looking glass that is the 2004 presidential election continues.

What's Coming

With the president's advantage coming out of the RNC dwindling (even with the weird polling variances we've been getting lately), there are two key factors remaining that are going to affect the success (or failure) of the candidates.

The first is the debates, and what'll happen there is hard to guess. The media is either going to be petrified of the right (due to the CBS scandal) or actively backing them (Fox 'n Co) and thus will likely break in Bush's favor, to the extent that that's possible. I just can't see how successful the president can be with the facts on the ground, however, as he's not skilled enough to win on sophistry and certainly can't argue his successes. The "flip flop" meme would work if Kerry was debating, say, Richard Novak, but Bush would look foolish.

(Not that he needs to avoid looking foolish.. he just needs to seem like "the nice guy". In 2000 that might have been possible... nowadays he gets far too flustered when challenged.)

The second, the Get Out The Vote effort, is the subject of an interesting New York Times piece that was linked from a post by "bruhrabbit" in the comment thread of this Donkey Rising post. (The implications of getting it from a commentary section are something I'll leave for another post.)

Here's the meat:
A sweeping voter registration campaign in heavily Democratic areas has added tens of thousands of new voters to the rolls in the swing states of Ohio and Florida, a surge that has far exceeded the efforts of Republicans in both states, a review of registration data shows.
The analysis by The New York Times of county-by-county data shows that in Democratic areas of Ohio - primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods - new registrations since January have risen 250 percent over the same period in 2000. In comparison, new registrations have increased just 25 percent in Republican areas. A similar pattern is apparent in Florida: in the strongest Democratic areas, the pace of new registration is 60 percent higher than in 2000, while it has risen just 12 percent in the heaviest Republican areas.

This may have a critical effect, and it's what one could call the "delayed action" of the rise of 527 groups under McCain-Feingold. While their advertising role is easy enough to understand, another effect is that both they and other "soft-money" organizations can (and pretty much must) spend their money on things like, say, GOTV efforts. An absolute TON of money has been earmarked for GOTV, $300 million by the Dems alone, and it's already having an effect- even if not everybody who registers votes, it's doubtlessly true that the more registered voters you have, the more votes you get on Nov. 2.

On the other hand, if the polling continues to get massaged in Bush's favor (as it has), Dems may be disheartened by the perceived futility of it. Then again, considering how badly most Democrats want Bush out, maybe even a faint hope will be enough to get them out to the polls. After all, life for Democrats under a Bush administration that doesn't care about re-election isn't something that I like to think about.

Of course, this is assuming that the election is decided by the voting machines anyway.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Dan Rather and MyDD

Well, according to Killian's secretary, the memos that have aroused so much controversy were apparently not written by him (through her), but roughly correspond with other memos that probably did exist in Killian's "Cover His Ass" file.

I had attempted to write another piece about my take on this whole situation, but hadn't figured out how to approach it, until I read this by MyDD:

Over the past few days, southpaws spent a lot of time countering the "forged" charges made by freepers, but you never saw any of our charges showing up in national stories on the subject. Instead, defense of the memos was left entirely to CBS news. Our successes with Trent Lott, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark were remarkable, but of late I feel that the right-wingers are outstripping us in our ability to push a big news story into the national media. The right-wing blogosphere has become integrated into the Mighty Wurlitzer, while we remain a loose confederation of outrage, analysis and action.
This is something I had been worried about for a little while. Throughout much of the year the right-wing bloggers have been pretty aimless and doctrinaire; Glenn Reynolds and Co. have been been harder-and-harder pressed to actually defend Bush's record, and when they have they've been pretty weak at it.

Thing is, that isn't really what the conservative machine has ever been good at. What it's good at is attacking and obfuscating. DD's concerns capture the essential imbalance both online and off: that while liberal arguments and analysis tend to be loosely grouped around various issues and outrages, conservative arguments and analysis are fundamentally about supporting conservativism itself- everything else is secondary.

(Y'know, the whole "movement consciousness" thing that everybody's been aware of for years. )
The defense has been difficult because the subject is indefensible, but attacking the other guy is perfectly doable... so that's what they're doing. Whether that "other guy" is CBS or Kerry, the dictum "the best defense is a good offense" dominates the strategy. This is not to say that the right is monolithic, but that the vaunted "message discipline" is a much more important issue that it's been given credit for.

How to deal with it? Well, quite a bit of the problem is addressed earlier in the post:
-The lower the stickiness of a blog, the higher the relative traffic value of a link from that blog to the blog being linked. In other words, a blog where there isn't much to do besides visit (no comments, few or no special pages, short articles), will cause a higher percentage of its traffic base to visit a blog that it links than will a blog with high stickiness (diaries, long articles, polls, comments, arguments, many special pages, etc).

-High traffic right-wing blogs, such as Andrew Sullivan, Hugh Hewitt, Real Clear Politics, Powerline and especially Instapundit (among the top seven right-wing blogs, only Captain's Quarters and Little Green Footballs have comments), tend to be less sticky than high traffic left wing blogs. Among the top seven left-wing blogs in terms of traffic, Dailykos, Atrios, Political Animal, Wonkette, Smirking Chimp, Political Wire and Talking Points Memo, four of the seven have comments, and Dailykos, twice as trafficked as any other blog according to some measurements, is perhaps the stickiest blog of them all. In fact Dailykos is so sticky, I can tell you right now without equivocation that being linked by in a post by Atrios does a lot more for MyDD's traffic than being linked on a front-page story by Dailykos, despite the enormous traffic gap between the two sites. (The two huge spikes in the link were on days when Atrios linked us,. By contrast, we were linked five times on front page Dailykos articles over the last month, but you can't tell what days those are, can you? Further, as I write this, we are experiencing a third major upsurge in traffic, once again courtesy of Atrios).

-The lower stickiness of top right-wing sites, especially Instapundit, can lead to a complete domination of the right-wing blogosphere by the "one big story" if the top bloggers are all pushing one story. Glenn Reynolds in particular, who does not have comments or special pages and who rarely comments on a subject beyond "xxx has the goods on this one," or "indeed," can send the traffic of any blog he links skyrocketing to a degree no left-wing blog can even come close to matching (and he links other blogs a lot). Right-wing blog traffic, and the articles people tend to read on any individual right-wing blog, has a remarkable correlation to the interests of the top-right wing bloggers, and Glenn Reynolds in particular. That is why, in the title of this article, I called the right-wing blogosphere a top-down operation.
This is a niche that Reynolds owns on the right and that nobody else really does on the left... although Atrios comes close, the incredible popularity and value of his comments threads means that many Atrios readers likely don't click through to the source link, but to the comments links... and like many, many left bloggers, he tends to link to news sources more than other bloggers.

(This doesn't mean that Atrios is doing anything wrong. Far from it. Tt means that Eschaton is objectively a better website than Glenn's, except as a means of reiterating talking points and providing a vehicle for other bloggers. It's just that nobody else does it either.)

To make a long story short, the lower stickiness of top right-wing blogs compared to top left-wing blogs leads to greater message consistency in their half of the political blogosphere than in ours (I can show anyone extensive site meter statistics to prove this). This consistency helps stories from the right-wing blogosphere reach the national media more often than those from the left-wing blogosphere. This seems to mirror the left and the right in other mediums as well.
Again, this partially stems from the varied goals of the two: the left seeks to highlight, explain and analyze (the vast majority of the time), whereas the right seeks to aid "their side" in gaining or maintaining power in a Manachean struggle against their left-liberal "enemies" (the vast majority of the time) .

So, the solution seems pretty simple, actually, although difficult: left-wing bloggers need to link to each other more, and do what they can to ensure that they grab hold of a story and don't let it go. I've fallen into the habit of only reading a few key blogs and their comment sections, which is something I need to change (as well as posting, but as you can see that's improving somewhat)... but the larger goal must be to ensure that the simple bloggers' duty of letting people know what others think about the issues (and keeping them alive) gets done by those with the power to make issues "happen". We may not have talk radio or Fox News to repeat our arguments, but at least the top-tier blogs do get read. That's power, and for all the uselessness of his commentary, Glenn does use that power pretty well.

(And, yes, I'm aware that I'm high-stickiness due to the length of the entries and the presense of a comments thread. In my defense, however, I'll just point out that I hardly have Kos' traffic. It's a catch-22. That's why I said "difficult".)

Edit: An additional thought. While I like commentary threads, I think they may be the key to the problem. When someone reads a blog entry and wishes to respond, they have two options: writing a response in their own blog (starting one if necessary) or writing in the comments thread. (You can do both, but it's pretty rare, and often awkward.) There is some great discussion in the thread for this story, no doubt, but this sort of thing saps the back-and-forth linking and discussion that is the lifeblood of the so-called "blogosphere". if someone comments on their blog, MyDD will write a counter-argument (or someone else), which will be followed by another counter-argument, and another, and another... and while the length of each post may be short, the volume will be much higher, and much harder for casual readers to miss.

Hiding the discussion away in the discussion threads may be tidier and stickier, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether it leads to steadily increasing over-concentration.

Sunday, September 12, 2004


One other thing: the media perception that Kerry is way behind is actually not a bad thing for him at the moment. Later it would be, because of bandwagoneering, but right now it's Kerry that's being "misunderestimated", just as he was when Dean was leading the pack.

Plus, if Ruy is right, those polls are highly deceptive, implying that the current "Bush lead" has more to do with the problem of identifying "likely voters" than anything substantial. The "come from behind" position married with reasonably good polling numbers?

That's not a bad place to be.

Distractions and the Wurlitzer

Both the blogosphere and the media have been obsessed with the question of whether or not some memos purporting to show Bush shirking duties are forgeries. The claim is that the documents use both justified text and a superscripted "th", which typewriters couldn't handle at the time but modern word processors can. Unfortunately, none of this is true.

I haven't got involved or commented for the same reason that I avoided the equally spurious "Swift Boaters" controversy: both are really silly distractions thrown up by the Bush campaign to try to muddy the waters. The attacks are and were almost ludicrously flawed: one capitalizes on people's ignorance of past typewriter technology; the other on the vast difference between patriotically serving one's country and knee-jerk McCarthyite nationalism.

(Yes, one can be a soldier and yet understand that your leaders messed up in going there and do whatever one can to ensure that others don't go through what you did. Former firemen are allowed to speak out against unnecessary fires; why not former soldiers and unnecessary wars?)

In the end, though, the biggest reason why I have trouble summoned up the energy to pick through all this, well, crap is explained well by the poorman:

Let me save everyone a whole lot of time. They are genuine. How do I know? Because the internet is currently awash in wingnuts claiming the memos are fakes. Ergo, they are for real. Q.E.D.
Some people may feel that I'm just being flip here. Is that so, some people? Tell me: how rich would you be right now if, every time something was posted on a right-wing message board, or everytime Drudge had an exclusive, or any time Rush Limbaugh revealed a secret truth that the liberal media won't tell you, you called up your bookie and put down $20 even money on "bullshit"? The correct answer is: "pretty fucking rich".
For decades, almost every supposed "scandal" hauled out by the right has turned out to be a steaming load--just ask Bill Clinton and his barber-- so why on earth should we pay attention to it now?

Lets be honest. The only reason this river of faeces exists is because Scaife 'n Co. figured out that you can flood the media with appalling lies to get them to believe moderate ones. Say that Kerry sacrifices puppies to Set, and the media will triangulate between that lie and the truth to conclude that he only kicks them for fun. Sure, you'll eventually get discovered, but if the river keeps flowing, they'll be too caught up in the next scandal to care, and the whole thing will wash over any of the real issues that should have been the subject of discussion in the first place.

Of course, this wouldn't be necessary if they could actually claim a coherent and defensible position on said issues, but you know what Khrushchev said: if you don't have either the facts or the law on your side, bang your shoe on the table and make as much noise as you can.

Fortunately, Wurlitzers and typewriters are pretty good at that.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Holy Crap

The Justice department just got caught trying to censor a supreme court decision.

Worse than that, it was in the context of the ACLU's battle with the Patriot act, which means that they just tried to censor (for reasons of "national security") information about censorship (for reasons of "national security"). Here's the redacted paragraph:

"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."
Mindblowing, huh?

Thanks to the Memory Hole for catching this.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Liberal Hawks and "GreyProp"

Ok, I have access for a little while, so here's a longer piece.

Atrios wrote a very insightful piece yesterday about the problem with many liberals that supported the invasion of Iraq- that despite the clear reality that there were no weapons of mass destruction or indication that it'd accomplish any of its goals, those who opposed it at the time are marginalized. Not were, are. Atrios (echoing Tim Noah) considers that insane. Atrios described it as a liberal "testosterone test". Some people got mad at him, largely liberal hawks like ogged who are pissed at Atrios "hounding liberals who supported the war", but he's more right than wrong. Another, Jack O'Toole, asks "does [Atrios] really believe that people like me -- people who've spent our lives fighting for the same progressive ideals that he holds dear -- could possibly think that way?"

Atrios drew the distinction. I don't. Sorry, ogged and O'Toole, but your attitudes weren't part of the problem, they WERE the problem.

The key issue, however, isn't Iraq and never was. The problem is unity and division. I've brought this up many times, but the key strength of the right and key weakness of the left is that the right gets to define all the issues, and thus remains publicly united when it comes to dealing with both domestic and foreign policy issues. People on the right disagree, but they agree to table their disagreements when dealing with the "other guy"... the liberals and the left. Part of this is due to the visceral loathing that most have for both the liberal left, but it goes further than that, and it gets back to liberal hawks.

Many (if not practically all) Liberal hawks (along with "centrist" liberals) are naturally focused on legitimacy. They want to be part of the discussion, but it's a discussion that the right has framed. They are, further, either unwilling to change that framing, or are ignorant that it is even taking place. Thus, in order to gain legitimacy, they need to accept the framing concepts that the right has built up. This means that they're essentially doomed, of course, because they're fighting on foreign terrain... but if you see this as a choice between relevance or irrelevance, then anybody sane would choose the former, right?

Unfortunately for them, the right has little interest in actually dialoguing with them. What they provide is legitimacy for the right's arguments... the classic "even the liberal [insert name here]" argument that we're all familiar with. It's the classic intelligence concept of "grey (or black) propaganda"... you know that your opponents aren't going to listen to you, so you get some that is presumably "neutral" or even "opposed" to make your arguments for you. It works spectacularly well, as we've all seen, especially when they're doing it of their own free will. They are quoted and used to the extent that this role is necessary, then are thrown away. Of course, they're all familiar with this too, but the argument remains... isn't it better to be relevant?

The weapon that they provide, however, is aimed squarely at those who could actually change the framework of the debate. There are, naturally, a lot of people on both the liberal and radical left who don't accept the framework, and attempt to break out of it. The radicals pretty much exist entirely for this purpose... it is their raison d'etre, and whatever disagreements that liberals have with them, it's an important role. (Yes, this includes the protest movement.) Even relatively "normal" liberals, however, often question a lot of the conventional wisdom and accepted assumptions that provide the framework of debates. Were the left in the United States akin to the right (or, for that matter, the left in, say, Canada... the situation is quite a bit different there), this would mean a tug of war between framers on the left and framers on the right, with the actual debate being held somewhere in between. This is where that legitimacy becomes critical for the American right, however, because they use those liberal hawks to ensure their framing assumptions are dominant. The same does not exist on the left, because the right simply doesn't have the same numbers or kinds of legitimacy-granting "opponents".

The practical upshot? The right (nominally the Republicans, but of course it's bigger than that) depended on their "Saddam was going to build WMDs and ruin the region" story to support the invasion, and by selectively choosing which liberals to praise by making the "proper" arguments for a "proper" dialogue, they ensured that those on the left who depend on access and acceptance by their rivals on the right will grant the legitimacy they need and force out those who are looking at the situation through a different set of assumptions. They knew that arguments by self-named "liberals" would carry much greater weight as classic grey (or, perhaps, black) propaganda. They put the machine into motion, the usual suspects came through for them, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly until they had the error of their assumption shoved brutally in their faces.

This creates a problem for the right, but they still control the frame. It creates a much BIGGER problem for liberal hawks, because the one source of power they have-- legitimacy-- is utterly threatened. Thus we get to where we are, where we end up with the bizarre situation where you can't be taken "seriously" unless you made a massive mistake. The fundamental problem of the left cannibalizing itself remains, and as long as it does, this sort of DoubleThink isn't going anywhere.

Fortunately, the solution is simple, and somewhat embodied in something O'Toole said. He said "When demagogues like Andrew Sullivan challenge the motives (i.e., the patriotism) of the liberal wing of the Democratic party, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends". It's a good start, but it doesn't go far enough. What liberals (not merely Democrats) need to do is accept that trying to leech acceptability from those who are opposed to everything you stand for is a mug's game. You're being used and thrown away. When somebody like Scott Ritter comes up and says "I was right, and you didn't believe me", the general liberal response should be and must be "you were right, we were wrong, we apologize to those whom we so thoroughly denigrated before the war and pledge to put away the right's convenient filters and listen to you in the future". Then, when the time comes, somebody other than Paul Krugman needs to speak up and say "these people have a point, they're not 'un-American', and we'll stand up for them and pay close attention to what they have to say, no matter what kind of flak we get."

Just stop being tools. It doesn't mean you have to agree with ANSWER or whatever, but stop being tools. It's demeaning, and it's why liberals continue to struggle.

Edit: One other thing. O'Toole said that cheap shots should be left to people like the RNC. No. Wrong. Utterly wrong. This "holier than thou" attitude is one of the best GreyProp weapons out there, because its melding with liberal equivocation lends even the most scurrilous attack credibility by being even dimly associated with those who "behave better". ("Sure, Rush said some horrible stuff, but this other liberal guy said something like it, and he's a LIBERAL and above this sort of thing. Maybe Rush is just 'overstating' an essential truth, and those who are attacking him are just covering their asses.")

If you're a centrist liberal who has been playing the legitimacy game, then you're hurting people you should be helping. Period. Take your medicine and start laying off the "own goals".

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Interesting piece in Haaretz today about the increasing isolation and irrelevance of both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, describing both of them as being inside "Muqatas".

The term "Muqata" has long ceased to designate that amputated structure in Ramallah where the ghostly Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat lives. "Muqata" is already a metaphor for an existential state. For example: Yesterday we were free men, young bachelors will say before their marriage, and now we are in the Muqata. Or, the Likud Party has put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a Muqata - that is, it has shackled him. It is even possible to illustrate the new use of the term: Sharon in Metzudat Ze'ev, Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, as all around him, is besieged like the original Muqata...

The clearest example is Arafat, who with being confined in the Muqata became irrelevant. The reason for this is that no one among the "relevant voices" wants to talk to him any more, neither Sharon nor United States President George W. Bush...[h]is long speech last Wednesday immediately elicited a scornful reaction. In Haaretz it appeared only on page 6 and not at the top of the page. That is, Arafat, too, has become a metaphor for irrelevance.

It is possible that last week Sharon also entered the Muqata of the Likud and he too is beginning to become a metaphor for irrelevance. After all, if a prime minister like him does not manage to convince his party to support him, neither with respect to the disengagement plan nor about bringing the Labor Party into the coalition, that is neither with respect to the new ideology nor to the tactic aimed a accomplishing it, then perhaps, as is said of someone in a different Muqata, "He no longer controls the street."
They also added that Bush is in a different sort of "Muqata", as he cannot interfere in either Sharon or Arafat's fate right now... the election and the Iraqi quagmire make that impossible.

Unfortunately that leaves, well, nobody to deal with the situation. Which is probably as the Likud voters wanted it, but it doesn't do much for regional or Israeli security and stability, does it?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


I don't have much time, so I'll make this quick. The big news yesterday was Bush's huge proposed reshuffling of American forces; from so-called "old Europe" and South Korea to (among others) the Central Asian "-stans" (like Uzbekistan and Khazakhstan). Some of the commentary I've been reading on this proposed reshuffling focuses on how it's supposed to "punish" countries like Germany that opposed the U.S. in Iraq and reward countries like Uzbekistan who gave their complete support.

There is some truth to that, but I think it runs a little deeper. The greatest strategic threat to these central Asian states (other than their own flawed-at-best systems of governance) is the growing numbers and militancy of the Islamic populations in the region. Many of them are looking north to the conflicts in Chechnya between broadly Islamic rebels and the Russian army and are seeing their own futures. Since the United States' interdiction-ahhpy attitude towards Communism has been transplanted to Islamic militants, it makes sense that the United States would be establishing bases there, especially considering that these states would be ground zero for any "clash of civilizations".

(Which is what is usually meant when people talk about the "War on Terrorism"... you don't establish bases when you're fighting a noun, but you do when you're building up for Huntington's war. Of course, according to his latest articles in Foreign Policy that enemy is actually hispanics... but I digress.)

The most disturbing part, though, is the already-revealed movement of troops out of South Korea. Don't get me wrong; I don't believe that North Korea is really all that interested, currently, in invading or destroying the South. They're not that crazy, and never have been, posturing aside. What gets me is the signals it sents to East Asia, saying that the United States' interests in the Middle East and Central Asia are to be prioritized, and East Asia is expected to fend for itself. Japan and Korea are both going to get the message that North Korea is their problem, and China must feel like a kid in a candy store.

The result? Well, as ol' Niccolo often said, there are two ways it can go. First, the region could start seeing serious strategic conflict and competition, with China moving to consolidate its power in the region and North Korea becoming more aggressive (They aren't crazy, but aren't going to ignore "low-hanging fruit" any more than the neo-cons did in Iraq). Second, if they see the threat as largely coming from the outside, the area could start coalescing together- first through economic regionalism, then perhaps regional security arrangement. Either way, it's increasingly likely that Japan will remilitarize. This is critically important for the U.S.-Japanese relationship, because the United States won't be able to hold their military support over Japan when they get into disputes over the highly capitalized, high value labour and products that both specialize in. Indeed, I can see tension forming over trade relationships with China, considering both benefit from access to the large Chinese labour pool and markets.

Remember, folks, the Middle East is NOT the only game in town. It's probably not even the most important one, current conflicts over oil and religion regardless. South Asia probably holds that distinction, but that's something I'll have to get into later.

(As you can tell, for those who were wondering, this is NOT an abandoned blog. Far from it.)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Convention and the Revelation

Pretentious title, I know, but it seems appropriate... and coming up with the damned things is always kind of tricky.

First, the convention. (Democratic national convention, that is) I'm amazed that the speakers are sticking with the "keep it positive" theme that the Kerry campaign was so concerned about. Then again, considering the power of presumptive future senator Obama's roughly positive speech on Tuesday, it's no surprise.  There have been numerous comparisons made between Obama and Clinton over the last few days, but the ability to draw people in using positive (instead of negative) imagery and rhetoric is the similarity that strikes me the most.

The revelation in question? Atrios' identity, which he finally revealed a little while ago. (Head over to his blog for the info... it's actually on the frontpage, although it takes a little searching). I'm amazed he did it, personally... if I were him I'd be on alert for Freepers trying to find and harass him, as they have with others in the past. There were good reasons for liberals online to be pseudonymous, reasons that haven't changed much. Still, it was his choice, and I wouldn't be surprised if his regular gigs on "Majority Report" are leading the way to at least a few television appearances.  

The lack of updating is due to the final and complete death of my computer (after months of on-and-off functioning). Access to others has been a little light, although it should improve in the next month or so. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation, but what's a guy to do? I somehow doubt I'm going to get a laptop from donation money, so I'll just have to take my opportunities where they come.

By the by, once I DO have access, I'm probably going to be switching templates. Things may be a little haywire when it happens. Just a heads-up.

Friday, July 16, 2004


I had a long post on the Wilson issue that Blogger just ate. (Word to the wise: don't use the "back" button when you see a problem in the preview. You'd think that it'd go back to the posting, but then you'd be wrong. Just like I was.)

So, I'll be quick. Wilson's response to the Senate charges is Here. He questioned their sources, their conclusions, and highlighted the difference between the clearly-partisan "additional notes" sections and the main body of the report. It's pretty devastating, especially on the key source that apparently doesn't believe what the Senate intelligence committee thinks he believes, and whom Wilson insists should be "reinterviewed".

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Drive-By Posting #2

One other thing I've seen and wanted to comment on was the ruling on the U.S. Pilot who killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. His punishment came down today; it was minor, although this wasn't due to the judging officer but due to the (inexplicable) choice of venues. An incident that leads to 4 dead soldiers should come before a court martial, case closed; that it didn't only reinforces the (disturbingly common) belief around the world that the United States' respect for rights and security stop at "the water's edge" far more reliably than its politics ever did. I'm coming to believe that it is this perception of "second-class humanity" that is at the core of the vast majority of anti-Americanism nowadays, not any nebulous "hatred of freedom". It also explains "Yankee go home and take me with you": if you had the choice, wouldn't you want to be one of the chosen, protected few?

In any case, if Canadians start coming to this conclusion, it would create serious problems between the two countries, more than we've seen in a long time. After this, however, whatever else are they supposed to think?

Drive-by Posting #1

Ok, another drive-by posting while I have the time and ability. I'm happy with the news of Kerry's pick of Edwards. Although it creates the possibility of Kerry having his own words from the primaries shoved back in his face, I somehow doubt that's the worst that the Republicans will aim at him. Absent that, Edwards complements Kerry quite well, and as Digby has pointed out in the past, his rhetorical judo against Republican talking points was amazing. I think that Kerry is the better candidate, but being able to bring Edwards' speechmaking to the table is a big benefit.

Plus, it finally ends the Hillary bullshit.

You'll notice that I have a sponsor again; I'm very happy to have Sen. Feingold's support, as I would anybody who (according to his official website) found the USA PATRIOT act "deeply troubling". Plus, I'm not one to say no to support; although the website is free, the ability and time to update isn't, and unfortunately I don't have the luxury of updating at work.

(Nor, at the moment, at home, as the on-again off-again computer situation is, sadly, "off", and will likely remain that way for a good while.)

In any case, thanks to Sen. Feingold, and to those who continue to read considering these long delays.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

"Martin and Me"?

Ok, as promised, a quick assessment of the Moore film. I liked it, quite a bit; there were some points that were a little overstated and alarmist (like the Saudi oil connections), but even they were still immensely interesting and generally "on". Much ofthe film was actually quite haunting, the "blank" 9-11 scene and the scenes with the soldier's mother brilliantly so. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the mother read her dead son's letter of outrage at the Bush administration, and the structure of the opening part of the film detailing Bush's weak early presidency was a cogent reminder that prior to 9/11, he was already an embarrassment.

What truly struck me was that Moore proved the vital importance of documentaries. Crimes and mistakes that I had read and intellectually understood were far more powerful when brought to the the big screen, and Moore did an excellent job of looking backwards and showing us what led us to this point. Considering that the biggest asset that the Bush administration has had is its ability to brazen its way through controversy with the confidence that all old scandals will be forgotten, this role of dredging up the past has become vital, and Moore has ably played that role. Even the opening invocation of the 2000 Supreme Court decision and disenfranchisement of black Floridians is vital to understanding just how bad the situation truly is, and I don't think the movie would have been so effective had Moore's opening of "was it all just a dream" not raised the question of whether Florida stuck us a living nightmare. (And when I say "us", I mean the planet, not just the American people.) It also sets the stage for Moore's most important achievement with this movie, which is framing and coloring the historical assessment of the Bush administration before it even ends. No future examination of Bush will be able to avoid Fahrenheit 9/11. Even disputing it acknowledges its importance.

Everybody who hasn't gone to see it should. Everybody who has gone to see it should think about what it means. Everybody who gets fixated on whether or not Moore was an "objective documentarian" doesn't know what a documentary is, and is missing the more important question of whether Moore's subjectivity is closer to the mark than you have let yourself believe.

As for the Canadian election, the most able analysis I heard was encapsulated in a simple sentence: "Ontario got to the polls, looked down, said 'Prime Minister Stephen Harper?' and said no". This was a massive win for the left, oddly enough, with center-left to far-left candidates receiving over 70% of the vote- left-wing parties now serve as the "balance of power" in Canada. Conservatives in Canada just had a very bad night; they're actually worse off than if they had been facing another Liberal majority. The last time there was a Liberal party leader that needed NDP support to pass bills, the (currently sacrosanct) public health insurance system was born. Who knows what will appear in the next few years or so.

Friday, June 25, 2004

The True North, Strong and Divided

Yes, I haven't been posting again, which is not usually how things go when one's humble home becomes a focus of attention for someone like the always-enlightening Digby. So it goes. To be honest, I've been distracted from American politics recently (although I do intend on seeing Moore's new film tonight), due to the fascinating events going on up in Canada. To make up for the lack of updating, a somewhat longer-than-typical entry follows.

As most of you know, Canada's going through an election. If you didn't know, then you should perhaps pay attention, because it's going to be interesting. See, up until very recently, the Canadian political system had been pretty much a one-party system, with the Liberals absolutely dominating by taking political positions roughly analoguous with the population and facing a weak, divided, and ideologically suspect opposition on its right and a "not ready for prime time" party to its left. It was poised to assume power unparalleled in the western democratic world, as everybody was expecting the new (and popular) former finance minister, Paul Martin, to crush all opponents. He was seen as all things to all people.

Then the so-called "sponsorship scandal" issue came up, the Liberal's soft underbelly of corruption was exposed and everything changed. The "scandal", such as it is, isn't really that bad; Canada's Auditor General, Sheila Frasier, has repeatedly stated that it's not that money was stolen, but that insufficient information has been given as to what it was actually USED for. Compared to what the Bush administration has been up to, it's mild, but this doesn't matter. Canadians are ticked, especially in Quebec, and Canadians are entirely unlike Americans in their political predelictions- they have a tendency towards massive lurches from one party to another.

So, who's the alternative? Well, The right has united under a bland-but-extremist economist on the far right named Stephen Harper, after the western-based "Reform" party finally achieved its goal of absorbing the old "Conservatives" (after having gone through numerous faux-"alliances" to do it) and are if anything more united than the squabbling Liberals. Thanks to the weakness of the Liberals, they're actually in a position to win it all, even though their platform is weak and their political positions very much out of step with most of mainstream Canada.

Thing is, thanks to the Canadian system, neither is likely to actually be running the show. In the American experience, a close election doesn't mean that much, because somebody is still going to win. Canada, however, has four major political parties (one, a Quebec seperatist party named the "Bloc Quebecois", is poised to be the third-largest thanks to the Liberal collapse in Quebec) and no single party is going to win a majority of the seats. In the past, that has usually meant coalitions between two of the parties, like the Liberals and the NDP, and that particular possibility is actually quite popular among most small "l" liberals in Canada, who have seen the supposed "Liberal" party drift rightward over the years. The problem is the Bloc Quebecois, who is going to be so large that even the Liberals and NDP together couldn't form a coalition that forms a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. The logical solution would be for the Liberals or Conservatives to create a coalition with the Bloc, but the Bloc's agenda of seperatism and social democracy makes them anathema to both the Liberals (who built their identity on Canadian unity and compete with them in Quebec) and the Conservatives (who love social democrats about as much as Grover Norquist does). Whoever creates a coalition with the Bloc would get punished in a coming election.

Making this even more divisive is the fact that Canada is a Westminster-style democracy, which means that there are no fixed elections and a single failed "confidence vote" (vote on confidence in the government) will bring down the government. This wouldn't necessarily be an issue, but in Canada almost every vote is a confidence vote, because every vote that involves the budget is a question of confidence as a matter of course. So the government must win almost every vote, but it can't create a coalition in order to do it, because the only party that will be big enough is political anathema.

To top it all off, the party that wins the most seats won't necessarily form the government. The Governor General (the representative of the Queen in Canada) customarily asks the leader of the last governing party to try to form a government first. This is usually a simple formality, but the Liberals could seize the opportunity and try to create a government in the face of a larger Conservative presence in Parliament. Paul Martin has said he wouldn't, but times change, and we're looking at the prospect of a difference of only a few seats.

(As a bonus, this is going to be the first time in a LONG time that an election in Canada will live and die by the local efforts. They say that the local candidate's actions affect about 10% of his vote totals, but that 10% will be critical. Every smart politician in Canada should be gearing up for the biggest "Get out the Vote" drive in Canadian history, because that razor-thin margin WILL be decided by the turnout. Also, there's a question of vote-splitting between the NDP and Liberals, although the polls that discuss the likely seat totals will have taken that into account and the NDP has been REALLY focused on key winnable ridings this time around).

Two things are sure to happen after Monday, however, in the both the short and long term. In the short term, Canada's government is going to be a very strange beast, operating like the coalitions found in Proportional Representation-based systems without the underlying electoral system that provokes them. (The aforementioned Governor General's poorly-understood powers to bring the government together will be exercised for the first time in generations). In the long run, however, it's now inevitable that Canada will move to some sort of mixed PR system. The left isn't going to unite-- the NDP and Bloc are simply too different from the Liberals-- and they're going to have realized that Canada can't stick with its current system. The Liberals won't like that, but I can guarantee that they'll like the alternative less. After all, when the leader of your chief rival calls the leader of YOUR party a pedophile, you'll do whatever it takes to keep them out of power.

Yes, this really did happen.

You can see, then, why I've been watching Canada's election with such keen interest. Compared to that drama, the United States' election seems almost... serene. Yet, there's an important American aspect to this. The United States appears to be moving to the left; the neo-cons are discredited, and this week's Economist revealed that there's a growing religious left aiming to counter the influence of the religious right. Without those two groups, there's little bedrock left for American conservatism to build on. If the extremely pro-American Conservatives win in Canada, however, it's likely that Canada will be dragged to the right. The upshot is that in a possible Kerry/Harper future, the "Fire and Ice" differences will calm; the fire will cool and the ice melt. Considering how American liberals point north and Canadian conservatives point south, it's possible that the ultra-long term result would be an increased likelihood of some sort of union between the two countries. This is the wildest speculation, of course; most Canadians are quite proud of not being Americans, and most Americans probably don't really want them that badly. (This is fine; the countries work better as complements, rather than twins.) Still, it's a possibility.

Blogging will remain light, unfortunately. I'll probably post a reaction to Moore's movie when I can. One thing I can say right now, though; it may well end up being the most important movie of the year, and quite possibly the most popular. We may end the year with Moore being one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. I can already see Ann Coulter's head exploding.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

"L'etat, c'est moi"

Yeah, I haven't updated for a while. As is usually the case with me and other bloggers, it's simply that I've been busy with other things, and there are a number of other excellent bloggers doing great work. One of those, consistently, is Josh Marshall, who wrote an excellent commentary about a Wall Street Journal article that reveals a confidential memo detailing how the president should "issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is 'inherent in the president.'" Josh's response is pretty much identical to mine:

So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.
He allows that no less a figure than Thomas Jefferson argued that there are cases where the president must act out of necessity, but that these were extreme cases where the president must thereafter "throw himself on the mercy of the public". All this is true.

What he didn't seem to notice, however, is that the dangers of extra-constitutionalism that he is concerned about are as old as American-style republics.

As I've mentioned in the past, there is a fundamental danger in an American presidential republic, which is that the head of government and the head of state are the same person. This invests the head of government with a lot of power; the symbolic power of the head of state can be used by the president to influence (or even dominate) domestic politics. This power waxes and wanes, of course, but in situations of perceived crisis it can be overwhelming, thanks to the natural need of nations and societies to have some person to rally around. This is why the Royals in England were so important in keeping spirits up during the Blitz, and why American presidents tend to enjoy so much lattitude.

When crises arise, then, there is both the opportunity and, lets face it, a clear desire for the head of state to "take charge and lead the people". If the problems of politics get in the way, then the president has a nearly irresistable opportunity to sweep those "problems" away, which usually means "emergency powers" of some sort. Once gained, these powers are very rarely given up, as there are always new "crises" to exploit to retain them.

(This can be done with the best of intentions; democratic politics can be maddeningly slow. A president that seizes power isn't necessarily evil or power-mad; he could be a good man that honestly believes that this is necessary.)

A king or queen can't really do this, because their role as embodiment of the people doesn't stem from popular acclaim but their membership in a particular family. People's commitment to popular rule is too strong nowadays for family ties to be seen as justification for conferring absolute power. A king couldn't dissolve the legislature by claiming that it's the "will of the people"; he'd get quickly contradicted by his (elected) prime minister as head of government. Every president, however, can at least partially claim legitimacy as the embodiment of the popular will. It is that will from which his legitimacy stems, but it is also that will from which modern cults of personality are born.

These sorts of events are incredibly common. In fact, they're so common that the fact that the United States has never had this happen has baffled political scientists since the phenomenon was noticed. There are a number of theories as to why, but my own favorite stems from an American military tradition, which is that soldiers swear loyalty to the Constitution, not the president, despite being their "commander in chief". One of the most treasured aspects of the American system is its balance of power between judiciary, executive and legislature; while its effectiveness can sometimes be questioned, it's important in that it enshrines the idea that the United States is a country where the laws stand above the president; that the symbolic power of a head of state will never confer absolute power upon him. "L'etat c'est moi" does not apply. It is, perhaps, the only way in which one can have a powerful president without having the system fly apart in the face of crisis.

Josh and the WSJ, however, has shown that the United States may be moving in the direction of countries like Argentina and Chile. The line of argument made in the memo isn't new, but very, very old... it's the first stage in a possible process where the powers of the laws is eroded and the powers of the executive rise in their place. Arguing that the president has the right to "set aside the laws" is an argument for absolute executive power, because the supremacy of "the laws" is the only real power that the legislature and judiciary have. Without this legal supremacy, the United States becomes like every other fragile republic in the Americas.

We know what will happen. We've seen it dozens of times before, and we'll see it dozens of times in the future. Republics are always haunted by the spectre of their "commanders-in-chief" becoming simply "commanders". The Latin word for commander is "imperator", more popularly known as "emperor". America may yet have its Napoleon; its Octavian. That it hasn't happened yet does not mean it won't.

This memo and the ideas that underlie it does not make empire inevitable; it is, however, the first necessary step in journeying down that road.

Edit: Digby also provides some good commentary on this issue.

Friday, May 28, 2004

"He's mad, I tell you!"

Anybody else notice that John Podhoretz's reaction to Gore's speech is extraordinarily reminiscent of the stereotypical scene in most detective-style movies where the villian, upon accusation from the protagonist, starts yelling "he's mad!"

How else to explain this?

was wrong. There is no way of knowing how he would have responded, because it is now clear that Al Gore is insane.

I don't mean that his policy ideas are insane, though many of them are. I mean that based on his behavior, conduct, mien and tone over the past two days, there is every reason to believe that Albert Gore Jr., desperately needs help. I think he needs medication, and I think that if he is already on medication, his doctors need to adjust it or change it entirely.
There is no way, whatsoever, that that could be taken seriously. Saying Gore is wrong is one thing... that I could understand. To claim that former vice president Gore is "crazy" is so bizarrely wrong that it defies explanation.

It just seems like they aren't even really trying anymore.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Nice Name

In case you were wondering, however, Rising Hegemon isn't me.

Nice stuff, though.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Rummy in Iraq

So far, this hasn't been overly impressive. Other than the "hoooooah" bits, it's been the standard "support the troops" stuff and Rumsfeld obliquely blaming the media for everything.

Yes, it sounds like the troops back him, but keep in mind that they've likely been carefully screened. Anybody who would scream "you sold us out, you bastard" is no doubt elsewhere.


Anybody else notice the title and thrust of this english language Al-Jazeera story? "Bloggers doubt Berg execution video".

Huh. that connection was something I didn't expect. I don't think it's quite accurate- most of the doubting has been by discussion forum denizens and not blog writers- but the specific story isn't as important as the fact that someone writing for Al-Jazeera, of all sources, built a story on "bloggers" instead of either using them as unacknowledged background or within the context of "what's with these weird online guys". No doubt that this is because Al-Jazeera is pretty eager to shift the blame for this thing; they want to keep the thought alive that maybe the Americans killed their own.

(I personally think that's damned near impossible, by the by. The propaganda benefit by that would be dwarfed by the potential damage were it revealed.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Video

You know what I'm talking about.

Yes, I've seen it.

Yes, I really wish I hadn't.

No, it really doesn't change much, objectively speaking. There have been rather a lot of deaths of innocents (and combatants) in Iraq, and this one poor victim doesn't really change that. It doesn't change the challenges and problems of the situation, although I expect that the media is going to be all over it tomorrow. It will almost certainly harden American hearts towards the Iraqis, as people blame the whole country (and the prisoners, many of whom are innocent) for what happened, and begin to excuse the treatment of the prisoners by claiming that this was worse.

(They're right in that it is worse, unless there were even worse aspects to the torture that haven't come out yet, which is actually possible. They're wrong, however, in believing that this changes the morality of the treatment of the prisoners).

Rationally, I know that this is par for the course in warfare, and the biggest difference is that the internet allows things like this to be disseminated... and that we don't often get an unfiltered look at the reality of warfare. I know that this is the world that we must face, and that whether we face it or not, it will remain regardless.

That knowledge, however, isn't going to help me sleep tonight.

Monday, May 10, 2004

New Blogger Interface

Welp, once again they've rejiggered the thing. Seems roughly the same, except with more rounded tabs and a different color scheme.

On the plus side, though, I really like the preview trick.

Edit: Ok, some of the stuff that they've added is actually pretty compelling. I've been thinking about switching templates for a while, and the comments system may turn out to be of more use than the (admittedly aging) YACCS system I've been using for a while.

Plus, a template shift would be in keeping with the name change and tone change that I've been contemplating as well. The situation in blogdom is very different than when I started, and the condition of conservative intellectual hegemony that I originally started this blog to combat has given way to an online reflection of the brutal polarization that is taking over American political culture. (And, to a lesser extent, world political culture.)

(Note that the hegemony wasn't really taken away, but just sort of given up; conservative bloggers have been astoundingly uninteresting, formulaic, and trite over the last while.)

On the other hand, redoing all the links is going to be a hassle.

I'll figure it out soon enough.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

The Abu Ghraib Issue

I'm not about to blog on this issue extensively; it's been well covered by other bloggers, especially Josh Marshall (latest entry here).

What I will mention is that this is going to throw the perceived hypocrisy of the democratic North (in the eyes of the rest of the world) into sharp relief. The core of the "we like Americans, but don't like their government" concept is that while the United States (among other states) considers democracy and human rights precious within its borders, it is perfectly willing to sacrifice them outside said borders to forward its interests. Hence the reason so many people loathe the United States' foreign policy at the same time as they're desperately trying to immigrate; they know that democratic ideals often lose out to raw realist "national interest" once you cross those lines.

This was always the dangerous part about using humanitarian arguments for justifying the intervention. They were always plausible, theoretically, as long as the United States could be seen as having its collective "heart in the right place", even while it was prone to mistakes caused by cultural ignorance. (Such as tromping around Mosques in army boots and the like). Even the horrible pictures and footage that show up on Al Jazeera could be explained away as "collateral damage" or tragic mistakes. These photos, obviously, are not tragic mistakes, and will be seen as systemic failures no matter how many cries of "isolated incident" rise up from those whose careers depend on people buying that argument.

Without that flimsy veneer, the humanitarian arguments are valueless, and at this point nothing else is left. Except maybe for the "removing a threat to Israel's security" bit, and having a huge unstable hole at the centre of the Middle East isn't in Israel's interest, any more than it is the United States'. Thus, the United States is left fighting a war without any real purpose, except trying to fend off the consequences of invading in the first place. Nobody is going to accept that, and the realities of trying to fight such a war is going to make the situation, if anything, worse than Vietnam.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Where's the Black Knight?

I hadn't thought that David Brooks was a Monty Python fan. You probably hadn't, either. Yet there is a distinctly python-esque argument being made by Brooks in his latest NYTimes article.

But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. Anybody who's seen "Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail" knows about the scene with John Cleese as Lancelot and Michael Palin as a king. Cleese just slaughtered half the wedding guests, completely randomly and for no good reason, and Palin (salivating over the prospect of making good with a Knight of the Round Table) says "this is a happy occasion! Let's not get into arguments about who killed who."

Take it away, Brooks:
And for the past 10 days, all of Washington has been kibitzing over the contents of Bob Woodward's latest opus, which largely concerns events that happened between 2001 and 2003. Did President Bush eye somebody else's dinner mint at a meeting? Was Colin Powell in the loop on Iraq? When did Bush ask the Pentagon to draw up war plans?

This is crazy. This is like pausing during the second day of Gettysburg to debate the wisdom of the Missouri Compromise. We're in the midst of the pivotal battle of the Iraq war and le tout Washington decides not to let itself get distracted by the ephemera of current events...

What's going on is obvious. The first duty of proper Washingtonians is to demonstrate that they are smarter than whomever they happen to be talking about. It's quite easy to fulfill this mission when you are talking about the past. It's child's play for a salad-course solon who spent the entire 1990's ignoring foreign affairs to condemn the administration piously for not focusing like a laser beam on Al Qaeda on Aug. 6, 2001.

It's harder to be a smart aleck about the future, especially in regards to Najaf and Falluja, where none of the choices are good ones. Do the Baathists win a victory every day they hold off our siege? Or if we take them out now, do we undermine Sistani? We Klieg Light Kierkegaards will give you the right answer — three years from now, after whatever option the president takes has been judged and found wanting.
"This is a war! We were attacked! Let's not get into an argument about who neglected what!". Just like Palin's, it's a transparent attempt to try to avoid blame (and explanation) for the actions of the past by using the distraction of the present. It's a nice game, because it means you can get away with whatever you want, as long as you wait long enough to claim "that's in the past, it doesn't matter". I'm sure Slobodon Milosovich would like to do the same thing, but that ain't going to fly, either.

(It's also a nice little distraction because there's really nothing official Washington can do about the situation in Iraq. It's a military issue, out of their hands. It's like bringing up the weather, except far safer for a Bush administration that play the old game of making things seem better in the short term, then trust that the long-term damage is forgotten..)

In this case, though, it's particularly perverse, because the books are really addressing the situation that we're in right now. Brooks is dodging around the "why" question, when the entire reason why the Woodward book and the 9/11 commission are important is because they get to the heart of the reason why Iraq has gone so terribly wrong- the tendentiousness and thoughtlessness of this administration and the President it serves. That Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and others neglected Al Qaeda in order to bring about their fever dream of an America-friendly Iraq is obvious enough, but you can't convict without evidence, and these things are evidence. Which David Brooks, and his political masters, desperately don't want people to realize.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Close Call

A Massive potential chemical attack by Al Qaeda was averted in Jordan today. "The plot would have been more deadly than anything al Qaeda has done before, including the September 11 attacks, according to the Jordanian government", says CNN.

Well, maybe. Or maybe it was intended to be a huge conventional attack; the main chemical agent in question, sulfuric acid, can apparently be used both as a blister agent or as an accelerant for a conventional explosion. Then again, according to a Jordanian scientist, the intent was to create a "chemical cloud".

Regardless, it looks like Al-Zarqawi was behind it.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The problem of attribution

In the L.A. Weekly, David Ehrenstein is laying out the problem with "unnamed sources". He's unimpressed with their history (thinking their importance overblown) and brings up one writer whose reliance on them has affected the recent war: Judith Miller.

“It’s all PR,” scoffs Nation scribe and author Eric Alterman, who, on tour for his most recent work (The Book on Bush), speaks excitedly of a public attuned to Bush administration outrages and eager to hear from a press involved in something other than perpetual fealty to the powers that be. “The Times has apologized for Jayson Blair, but it hasn’t apologized for Judith Miller!” says Alterman. “That I’d like to see!”

Miller, a Pulitzer Prize winner of until recently no small journalistic repute has long been considered a large feather in the Times’ cap. But her reporting on Iraq, in which claims concerning Saddam Hussein’s apparently mythical weapons of mass destruction were made through her by both a clearly identified Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and an unidentified man in a baseball cap “standing off in the distance,” who military “sources” had told Miller had told them about them has been widely — and deservedly — criticized. So much so that a recent Times profile of Chalabi (“Chalabi, Nimble Exile, Searches for Role in Iraq,” March 26) was assigned to a less-than-completely-impressed Dexter Filkins. (Miller did not respond to an e-mail seeking her side of the story.)
What strikes me about this issue is that it's roughly equivalent to the anonymity/pseudonymity issue, with a roughly similar answer. Unnamed sources do have their place; there are cases where information must come out, but it would be dangerous for names to be named. That said, whenever an unnamed source is used all involved must recognize that it could very well be complete falsehood and treat it with a certain amount of caution. Just as there's a benefit to be found from "namelessness", there's a price, and that price is having everything you say questioned.

Ehrenstein makes a good point when he quotes Russ Baker saying "Miller's formula...goes like this: Promise the bosses at your paper that you will get scoops, then cut deals with highly placed individuals to serve as their conduit to the front pages". He's right when he declaims the over-reliance on unnamed sources and the damage it's done. The problem, though, is not merely that reporters aren't being skeptical enough, but that those to whom reporters are reporting are often not skeptical enough. When people hear "unnamed source", they should take it with a grain of salt, and have this danger pointed out to them. Yes, Watergate affected opinions, but that was a long time ago.

Unfortunately, however, it looks like since that doesn't serve anybody's interests, it's not going to happen. Well, it may serve the interests of the Union...

but it's been a long time since that's really mattered.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Well, Atrios has moved from the occasional phone-in on Air America to guest co-hosting.

And he's not bad.

I'm extraordinarily glad that he's been able to do this, but I worry whether the blog is going to suffer if his non-blog media efforts grow. That hasn't happened yet, as a quick scan of the blog will show, but the possibility is there.

Monday, April 19, 2004


I've found a counterpoint argument to the Billmon one about the Israeli pullout that I referenced below. It takes a much different position, arguing that

Over the past three years a new political realism has slowly and painfully emerged on the Israeli centre-right. In some ways it is akin to the revolution in consciousness among South African National Party leaders in the final years of apartheid. In the eyes of Israeli right-wingers, nothing has seemed to work for Israel over the past decade: neither negotiation nor repression. Disoriented and frustrated, Mr Sharon, his deputy, Ehud Olmert, and other senior figures have at last begun to internalise reality: Israel, they now understand, faces imminent defeat in its long demographic struggle to secure a Jewish majority between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean. The settlement project of the past generation has failed in its central objective. Israel can no longer hope to sustain her position in the occupied territories without a sacrifice of blood and treasure that is simply unacceptable to most of her citizens...

...His enemies complain that he wants at most to find a way out of Gaza and that he has already exacted his price from the US: recognition of the permanence of many Israeli settlements in the West Bank. A closer look at the wording of the formal agreement between Sharon and Bush (which, by the way, will bind any successor to Sharon, should he fall from power in the coming weeks) suggests a different conclusion. There is no foreclosing of the position on the future border between Israel and a Palestinian state. That remains to be settled by negotiation. The roadmap has been accelerated rather than abandoned. One thing has been foreclosed: any remaining forlorn hope among Israeli ultra-nationalists of pursuing the dream of populating the whole of the West Bank with Jews.
Read the whole thing: it's an interesting take on the issue, and implies a more nuanced position on the part of the Israeli right than I (and many others) had often given them credit for.

On the other hand, it may still be cover, and negotiation may still be unlikely. The "we're punishing the Palestinians" rhetoric that preceded this move does seem to imply that. The author implies that settlers wouldn't want to shoot at the IDF; at the same time the IDF may not want to dislodge settlers. It's also unlikely that these tactics will decrease tensions in the region much. It's still worth considering, however, and the shouting of base talking points that surrounds this issue rarely affords that leisure.

Pandagon sums it up

During the Bush years, I feel as if we're almost running behind the true political depravity. We find out Bush lied, and we say it, and by the time that the full-throated denunciations of anyone who dares advance that rather obvious truth begin, we find out something worse. The leadership in the occupation of Iraq was completely incompetent. Bush focused more on brush-clearing than terrorism before 9/11. And now, this.

We don't have to peer in the dusty corners for dark secrets these days. Every time we turn around, there's something new, bright and shiny and just plain wrong in our face.
I agree entirely with what Jesse said, and the worst part is that this is actually an excellent strategy when dealing with American politics, thanks to the relatively short memory of the American people and press when it comes to non-sexual scandals. They just have to hold things off long enough for something new to come down the pipe, and the "he said/she said" morass of faux-"objectivism" will obscure all.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


What can one say to this? When the stories get out about what actually went on inside Fallujah, if they're even half as disturbing as this story implies, the consequences will be devastating.

It's long, so I'll just give you the conclusion:

And the satellite news says the cease-fire is holding and George Bush says to the troops on Easter Sunday that, “I know what we’re doing in Iraq is right.” Shooting unarmed men in the back outside their family home is right. Shooting grandmothers with white flags is right? Shooting at women and children who are fleeing their homes is right? Firing at ambulances is right?

Well George, I know too now. I know what it looks like when you brutalise people so much that they’ve nothing left to lose. I know what it looks like when an operation is being done without anaesthetic because the hospitals are destroyed or under sniper fire and the city’s under siege and aid isn’t getting in properly. I know what it sounds like too. I know what it looks like when tracer bullets are passing your head, even though you’re in an ambulance. I know what it looks like when a man’s chest is no longer inside him and what it smells like and I know what it looks like when his wife and children pour out of his house.
What else is there to say?

Friday, April 16, 2004

Japanese Hostages Freed

Excellent news: the Japanese hostages have been released. Unfortunately, more may be in danger:

Koizumi meanwhile said Japan still needed to confim the reported abduction of two more Japanese nationals, Junpei Yasuda, a 30-year-old freelance journalist and Nobutaka Watanabe, a 36-year-old peace activist.

"We have to cope with the matter in a cautious and unified manner," he said.
No doubt. This would seem to imply a lack of coordination between kidnappers- why release some only to kidnap others- but it's sad that the tactic appears to be becoming entrenched.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Billmon and the Territories

A truly, truly savage critique over at Billmon of the Bush administration's announcement of support for Sharon's plan of a unilateral pullout of the Gaza strip (in exchange for entrenchment of existing West Bank settlements).

Here's just a taste:

This is a shameful capitulation. As the Reuters story notes, the statement overturns in one stroke almost 40 years of official U.S. policy -- a policy Shrub's father actually showed a fair amount of political courage in defending. For decades, Israeli leaders (Likud and Labor alike) have worked to create those "new realities on the ground" -- as the statement, with the usual neocon arrogance, describes them -- through illegal land expropriations, relentless discrimination against Palestinian landowners, and lavish government subsidies for Jewish settlers. And for decades, the U.S. government has refused to accept Israel's bully boy tactics, despite the relentless, continuous efforts of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.

That's gone now -- and probably for good, as I'll explain in a moment. Today's statement essentially guts the road map (itself a largely gutless process) by deleting the essential principle that the final status of the territories will not be determined by unilateral action on either side (which in the real world, means on the Israeli side.) It also negates the fundamental premise of UN Resolution 242 -- the bedrock of all peace efforts over the past 40 years -- that territory will not be acquired by force.

Indeed, Sharon actually ends up with something better than an approved settlement list from Bush. He gets virtual carte blanche to keep any settlement he wishes to keep -- and indeed, to grab any part of the West Bank he wishes to grab, as long as it can be connected in some way to those "existing major Israeli populations centers." And if you know anything about Israel's settlement policies in the occupied territories, you know how good they are at connecting things.
That's just a small part... Billmon is TICKED. (Needless to say, the comments thread is 395 comments strong and just getting warmed up). In some respects, I share his concerns; I have believed and continue to believe that the final borders must be subject to negotiation, and that an over-focus on "the situation on the ground" as deterministic of the final outcome creates a very dangerous precedent. Uprooting thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of settlers would be a disturbing and potentially violent task, no doubt, but this was always part-and-parcel of the settlement process. The Israeli government can't shuck its own responsibility for this slow explansion any more than the P.A. can for the "drive them into the sea", anti-semetic rhetoric of its extremist members.

(In fact, considering the financial incentives for settlement in the Territories, one could easily hold the Israeli government directly responsible, but that is a debatable matter.)

Still, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with Billmon's insistence that "Washington truly is Likud-occupied territory now". Needless to say, that sort of argument is the first step down a very dark road indeed, and obscures the fact that no matter how powerful, AIPAC and the neo-cons are only a few players in a very large game indeed.