Friday, August 31, 2007


Yeah, bad pun. But despite it, Wil Wheaton's keynote address for PAX was still brilliant and insightful, about both gamers and the politics of gaming. Here's his blog entry about it.

And here's another, about the idea central to the keynote that, yes, gaming is a social activity. And a touchstone of many peoples' youth, including Wil himself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Membership Hath Its Privileges

More on the foreign policy thing: if you haven't already read my long piece on what the hell the "community" is, feel free.

Max Sawicky, horrible quitting bastard that he is, complained that there is no "foreign policy community"; that it's all about a pro-war lobby, whether that lobby be (ineffectively and counterproductively) attempting to forward Israeli security or not. He pointed out that lots of IR types opposed the war.

He's kind of right, and kind of not. Yes, there were--and are--a lot of IR experts that opposed the war. By and large, though, they weren't attacked for being "outsiders", just not even really addressed at all. In fact, the rare occasions where they were addressed were the ones where the general public got to find out about the divisions over IR and foreign policy, as the neo-conservatives would attack the neo-realists, the neo-realists would attack the neo-conservatives, and the neo-liberals would...well...mostly try to staunch the wounds they received from being turfed out of South America, but that's neither here nor there.

Where the "community" element tended to play the greatest role is when members addressed "outsiders", by bluffing about just how universally held their opinions were. It was a rather nice scam: insist that everybody "serious" agrees with you to those who have neither the ability nor the time to check, and you'll probably get away with making them feel ignorant and out-of-touch.

(Economists are BRILLIANT at this.)

Also, one should be careful to draw a distinction between "international relations" experts and area experts. They're not quite the same. The former specializes in understanding those things which are, supposedly, common across all regions and all states. Area experts look at what makes each region special, and go from there. Juan Cole, for example, is by and large an area expert, so he knows what makes the Middle East tick, but he isn't exactly the go-to guy for, say, Asia. He may know the principal debates and theory in IR, but that isn't quite his "beat".

The problem is that the former group has had this tendency to ignore the latter group of late. Chalmers Johnston has been decrying this for ages; "International Relations" types have sort of looked down upon those who focus on the differences between regions and countries for a while, preferring a less culturalist, more "rational" way of looking at statecraft that characterizes the "neos".

Regional experts who weren't neoconservatives wearing sheeps' clothing (and thus members of the "community" through their interchangeable AEI/Heritage posts) were almost universally against this war: they recognized that the whole thing was a load that would almost certainly blow up in the Americans' faces. But they were "outsiders" as well, so they were neither listened to, nor referenced in those "everybody thought" assertions that form the backbone of the "community's" self-defense mechanism.

So, yeah, there is a community. Matt Yglesias doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's just a journalist/columnist, and not one who gets the AEI bye. Juan Cole doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's one of those irrational area experts. Max doesn't get to be a part of it, because he's a heterodox economist. And *I* certainly don't get to be a part of it, because I'm a pseudonym.

So when all of us said "er, this ain't gonna end well" (except maybe Matt), we aren't listened to. Not because of the "lobby", but because of the community.

Doesn't This Sort of Thing Kind of Prove Their Point?

Not that I don't think that the whole "Israel Lobby" argument isn't problematic, but when you've got people deliberately trying to kill discussion on the topic, it just don't look good.

Edit: Ah, nothing like the "I'm not saying they're anti-semitic, but they're making arguments that anti-semites would like and therefore should be cautious" line that you regularly get on the subject, this time over on Yglesias' site.

To change the cultural context, should one not decry human rights abuses in China because it will be popular with anti-Chinese bigots?


Same thing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Application of The Last Post's Theory

Second thought. The reason why I focused so much on theory in that last post was because it's the distinguishing factor here. Sure, "foreign policy community" types often engaged in pretty a-theoretical discussions of security and foreign policy and whatnot. Dennis Ross' bit of pablum here is a good case in point:

Leverage is essential to the exercise of statecraft. The Iraq Study Group seemed to understand that. The Bush administration hesitates ever to apply it. Even its quasi-pressure on Maliki is primarily rhetorical. Why would he change his behavior when he sees far worse alternatives, when he is under countervailing pressures from his own base and other Shia politicians, and when he doubts that the Bush administration will change course?
Any blogger could have written this. His piece is actually quite a bit shorter than many blog entries on this here site.

What's different is that Ross is employing a bit of assertion here, with that "leverage is essential to the exercise of statecraft", and expecting everybody to go along with it. If Ross' reputation alone won't carry the day if he's contradicted on this assertion, he'll probably try to shore it up with other assertions about "the exercise of statecraft". Probably from that new book of his.

The problem? If you drill down through all that assertions, that little bit about "leverage" is REALLY just applied Neo-Realist theory. And, of course, the course of world events has roughed Neo-Realism up like an extra in Fight Club extra. There's actually precious little reason to necessarily believe that leverage is essential to much of anything.

EVERYTHING has theory at its foundation, folks. Drill down to it, and I guarantee you'll see the experts in a new light. It won't necessarily be pretty, either.

So, Apparently Terrorism Works- Somebody Alert the Foreign Policy Community!

I severely doubt that Washington is going to be too happy with South Korea right now. The Koreans just made a deal with the Taliban; in exchange for getting 19 hostages back, South Korea is leaving Iraq.

Yep, you read that right. The Taliban, er, won.

Well, kinda. Here's the thing: the South Korean troops were already leaving at the end of the year. The deal is more about any recurring presence by the Koreans; missionaries are out, as is any civilian travel to Afghanistan whatsoever. For all intents and purposes, South Korea has completely withdrawn. And I doubt that that's overly unpopular in Seoul. Sure, South Korea has technically "backed down" and lost prestige and whatnot, but it doesn't appear to matter.

This isn't supposed to happen. This isn't the standard explanation for how countries behave. It is counterintuitive, at least to the right people.

Yep, you read that right too. Welcome to the all singing, all dancing, long-delayed, Foreign Policy Community post!

(Warning: this is a long one, along the lines of the stuff I was putting out in 2002. And like my other long posts of late, it'll probably be quickly ignored. But what the hell. Needs to be said, and nobody else appears to be saying it. Those familiar with this blog will probably recognize a fair bit of what I'm saying here; I've been saying it since 2002.)

First, a bit of background on what's going on, since this all really went down a while ago and you know what bloggers' memories are like. It started with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist/blogger/former lawyer over at Salon. He posted up a piece that responded to this memo from Samantha Powers.
America is plagued by a self-anointed, highly influential, and insular so-called Foreign Policy Community which spans both political parties. They consider themselves Extremely Serious and have a whole litany of decades-old orthodoxies which one must embrace lest one be declared irresponsible, naive and unserious. Most of these orthodoxies are ossified 50-year-old relics from the Cold War, and the rest are designed to place off limits from debate the question of whether the U.S. should continue to act as an imperial force, ruling the world with its superior military power.

Most of the recent "controversies" involving Barack Obama's foreign policy statements -- including his oh-so-shocking statement that it would not make moral or political sense to use tactical nuclear weapons to bomb isolated terrorist camps as well as his willingness to attack Al Qaeda elements inside Pakistan if the Musharraf government refuses (as they did for some time) -- were not "controversial" among the Establishment on the merits. They were "controversial" (and "naive" and "irresponsible") because they breached the protocols and orthodoxies imposed by the Foreign Policy Community governing how we are allowed to talk about these issues.
This kicked off a gigantic brouhaha over the following weeks between Glenn, Daniel Drezner, Atrios, Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, among many others. Hardly an exhaustive list of links on the subject- much of these particular posts concern a defense of the "community" by Gideon Rose. Honestly, though, I'm not going to respond to each and every argument. That would take forever. I'm going to step back instead and try to explain what this is really about.

So. "The Community". Who are they? Well, now that's the question, isn't it? Greenwald has kind of danced around this central issue in my mind, though the term itself is a little misleading. See, what they are is easy: they're experts. Almost to a man (or woman, but it's a pretty male-dominated group), they're people who have spent rather a lot of time learning the knowledge and craft of international relations, international affairs, foreign policy, strategic policy and the like. Many have Doctorates, though many more have Masters' degrees. Almost all have been "in the game" for a while in one way or another. They work at think tanks, "institutes", or in some cases academe, though that last ones a bit tricky, for a reason I'll get to in a sec. How they get there doesn't matter, though: what matters is that it's a community of expertise.

What exactly is this craft that they are experts of? Well, that's a good question too. Glenn didn't really look into this, and a lot of others (Yglesias, Drum, et al) didn't either. International Relations is a deeply odd discipline: it's almost easier to say what an IR expert is not an expert of. It's not economics, at least not quite, because economics crossing national borders works quite a bit differently than that inside. They're not in political science, either; most of the insights of that field require a state apparatus to be effective. Sociology? Hell no.

Nope, it's its own weird little body of knowledge and theory and models and whatnot, thanks to the simple problem that these guys try to wrestle with:

How do you survive in a state of anarchy?

That's what they believe states exist in. There's no real world government exerting control, so states have to try to get by all by their lonesomes. Sure, they can make friends and alliances and whatnot, but there's nobody enforcing it but them. It's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome out there, and we've got to try to make it work. Kind of scary, if you stop to think about it. Most people don't think about it. These guys do.

See why there might be that cult of "expertise" and "seriousness" that Glenn was raging about?

Even worse, there aren't a ton of people who are involved in it. The "community" is pretty small; even smaller if you remove those people who are just looking to make a buck or two from international trade. It's even smaller if you break apart the academics from the practitioners, and it's really the latter that are part of the "community", since the academics often tend to stay out of mainstream foreign policy debates. They're busily trying to build a body of theory that can actually support this relatively young field. They, and some of the practitioners, are trying to turn it into a science.

It's not going well. It's not going well at all. The field is absolutely littered with theories and models that seemed to work well at the time, but came crashing own around everybody's ears. The old liberal belief that trading nations don't fight was contradicted by WWI. Wilsonian liberalism's belief in the power of collective security was torn asunder by WWII, and has been limping along ever since. In the wake of that war arose realism, which remains dominant in many respects, but the realists' insistence that states care for nothing but their (strictly material) national interests was entirely unequipped to explain the end of the Cold War and the peculiar case of Mikhail Gorbachev. Realism has been struggling ever since.

(No, Reagan didn't win the Cold War. Gorbachev decided it was incredibly foolish and called it off. There's a difference.)

The neo-liberals and neo-realists added a patina of formalism, transplanting the orthodox economist's blissful faith in mathematical, rationalist certainty to this troubled field. Neither of them have done that well. Neo-liberalism has sustained a crippling blow with the demise of the Washington Consensus, and the belief that neoliberal, market-led economics can grow an economy to the point where people are too busy getting rich to want to fight seems a little, well, precious these days. South America and Eastern Europe were their playground, and they made kind of a mess of things.

The neo-realists, on the other hand? Their belief that you can break down national security to a particularly complex, but solvable game--thanks to the structure of the international system--has also had some problems of late. There have been a wide variety of models that fit within this particular paradigm, with names like Offensive Realism, Defensive Realism, Offense-Defense Theory, Structural Theory, Hegemonic Stability Theory, Balance-of-Power Theory... but all they really do is rejigger the relative values of the same damned variables within the same damned game. One becomes ascendant over another, temporarily, depending on who gets the most citations in International Security and the other IR journals and which case they're looking at this year vs. last year... but the whole thing still founders upon the rock of the Cold War.

Or, well, it did. Nowadays it struggles with the War on Terror, as these theories do a magnificently poor job of explaining the behavior of the Islamic theocrats, who aren't motivated by maximizing either a) their income or b) their perceived security. While material factors do influence the behavior of terrorists and insurgents, it has a lot more to do with factors that are difficult-to-impossible to operationalize into variables that can be plugged into formal models. Things like perception, belief, values, morals, culture, and identity. These things simply aren't well handled by neo-anything, and they sure as heck ain't derived from the anarchic structure of the international system.

After all, the war on terror has little to do with national borders: it lives in the places where borders break down, or never really meant that much in the first place.

Enter the neo-conservatives, who DID focus on all these things. They do think that morals, and values, and identity matter in international relations- which makes sense, as domestic neo-conservatism tends to be obsessed with these things as well. So do the non "neo" liberals, but there's an important difference: while liberals focus on those things that bring people together, neoconservatives are a more hierarchical bunch, believing that western (read: American) culture and values are clearly and self-evident superior. It's that superiority that grants the United States license to go tearing across half the globe- because in its wake, it will create little Americas everywhere it goes, and those places will be infinitely improved over what had preceded them. After all, America's purity and morality saved the world from Communism, right?

(Well, no. But this is the mindset.)

But, of course, we know what happened there: that whole mindset foundered as well, this time in Iraq. Iraq was a failure. They aren't going to get their little Americas. They never were. They've been rather rudely shown that American's moral superiority is an illusion, too. They're still trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered theory, but it's not happening.

All the other theories are no better off, however.

So, Mr. Glenn Greenwald. You wonder why so many of these "experts" are so quick to attack outsiders? So wedded to their orthodoxy? There's one answer: because there ain't much there. That's the dirty little secret. IR Theory (and by extension IR Praxis, otherwise known as foreign policy) is by and large a shambles. They play at being scientists, scholars, and thinkers, but they're standing on quicksand, and they're shouting as loudly as possible to try to obscure that fact. It doesn't matter which school of thought they belong to; none of them have been able to explain all or even most of the cases out there. But because people like Glenn don't know about the battles, conflicts, triumphs and failures--don't know about the lingo and the jargon and the models and whatnot--they're able to erect this wall of "seriousness" to keep you out.

They're clannish because they spent a lot of time studying a little-understood field.

They're defensive because those studies have borne precious little fruit.

They write things like this:
[E]ven knowledgeable professionals who were opposed to the war generally thought Iraq had dangerous prohibited weapons programs—they just disagreed over how to handle the problem...Professionals, you might say, are the worst people to listen to on foreign policy—except for all the others...
...because they hope to try to exploit the former to keep you from noticing the latter. They say "serious" and "professional" and "naive" and "realistic" and "knowledgeable" because it's the most effective way to deter serious (heh) investigation.

Yes, on one level, they're right. It really is an important field, and there really is a lot of ignorance about it out there, and it really is one where everybody has an opinion that's often based on little more than the sort of "common sense" that is reliable only in being wrong. This is what drives the reaction to the "netroots", I think; the netroots is not using the acceptable theories and models and nomenclature, not engaged with the underlying battles between all these flawed theories, and not agreeing on those assumptions that underlie the (currently dominant) battle between neo-realism and neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism. Most bloggers don't even know what they are. They would be well served by finding out.

But, as far as I've seen, Glenn is right about one thing, and Dr. Gideon Rose is absolutely wrong: there is no reason or justification for deference to these "Professionals".

There's actually every reason to distrust them. Not because of Iraq, or Iran, or Israel, or India. Not because of Bush, or Clinton, or Drezner, or Krauthammer, or Rose, or Wolfowitz. Not because of Abu Gharib, or Gitmo, or the CIA, or the NSA, or the WTO, or anything like that.

It's because the body of knowledge and expertise that they're drawing on isn't actually that impressive. It isn't actually that useful. It certainly isn't that successful at explaining or predicting much of anything. It might be, someday, and it's definitely worth knowing and studying as a way of getting your head around these issues. Everybody who is interested in foreign policy and international affairs should bone up on all these theories. But it isn't worth deferring to their theories and dogmas, at least not yet.

More as I think of it.

Edit: Ok, first thought. The anarchist/socialist left will no doubt pipe up about Prof. Chomsky and his beliefs, and to a great extent the attacks on bloggers are related to the full-court press by the "community" to keep these guys out. They haven't been that much more successful, however; too much Marxist/socialist analysis of foreign policy is wrapped up in the same kind of materialism and economic determinism that sinks neo-realism and -liberalism.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bush Dogs

Chris Bowers ain't exactly the most beloved blogger among many independent bloggers, (largely because he considers us relics who should join the Kos Army and feed the "big players" hits), but I have to admit, I do like the Bush Dogs thing. Though not for the reasons you'd think.

I don't think it'll lead to a sea change in Democratic attitudes; blue dogs are blue dogs for a reason. I don't think it'll necessarily change policy, either. What it WILL do is erase the embarrassment of YearlyKos and the FISA vote. Some of you remember that a little while back I said that the biggest weakness of the bloggers vis a vis other groups is that nobody listens to them. I asked the question "who DO they listen to?" and speculated on a few reasons why they'd listen to some people, and not to others. I still don't have a firm answer on that, but one of my speculations was that they listen to those who can take their jobs away from them. Yes, you pander to those who can help you keep your jobs, but the guy you really pay attention to is the one that has the "oomph" to dump you back into the private sector. That's why AIPAC has so much clout, for example; while they don't have "conspiracy theorist" levels of power, they do have the ability to make it extraordinarily difficult for Congressmen and Senators to get elected. The religious right has even greater power for many Republicans; if you don't keep them happy, they'll nominate somebody in your district who will, and it won't matter how much money you have, you won't get that nomination.

This whole "Bush Dog" thing is a way for the bloggers to seize that kind of power. If Stollar, Bowers, Kos et al can prevent a few people from getting nominated, or even make it much more difficult than it would have been otherwise, they'll be a group that is listened to, instead of just pandered to. Yes, it might lose them a few districts, but that won't matter, because they'll have demonstrated that they'd rather lose a few districts than put up with candidates they can't stand. Sure, the Dems will screech at that, but it'll be just like with MAD: you have to demonstrate you're just irrational enough for them to take you seriously. Once they do take you seriously, they can rail about you all they want, they've still got to take you into account, and eventually learn to get along with you. The fact that the "centrists" are already complaining about it reveals the potential effectiveness of the move.

It's sad, because I think the Dems should listen to the "progressive netroots" because they have a good message. I don't think that's going to happen, though. I think this is going to come down to a credible threat, and it looks like the "Bush Dogs" are that credible threat. I still think Bowers is out to lunch on individual vs. group blogs, but I'll give him credit on this, anyway.

MaxSpeak? Not any more.

Better be a damned important "position" Max is taking, that's all I'm saying.

Hah! Gonzales Finally Quit

Here's Time giving their opinion as to why. It's not terribly long, but here's a shorter version: he was a millstone around Bush's neck, and there's no way they could handle someone so radioactive without Rove around.

Plus, he's probably trying to dodge a cell.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Video Game Voter's Network: Whose Interests is it Defending?

Interesting bit over at Gamepolitics discussing the problem with the quasi-astroturf Video Game Voters Network, an organization of gamers and game advocates created by the ESA for lobbying/outreach purposes. I like the idea of the organization, but have always sort of wondered who, exactly, lobbies for the interests of the consumers, instead of the producers.

Two cases in point:

I learned that the VGVN was run by the ESA; a publisher organization. Why would I, as a consumer, want to further the interests of a business? I’m sure it was in the fine print when I signed up with the VGVN, but that was quite awhile ago, before the new, in my opinion quite atrocious, [website] redesign was introduced. Also, I really didn’t like their new “Trailer” for the fight to stop video game legislation. I found it to be very condescending, as the VGVN is trying to reach gamers of voting age. Very much propagandist. It seems like they are trying to reach those who aren’t intellectually or physically mature enough to have critical thinking skills.
And then there's this one:

I wanted to separate myself from any involvement with the ESA after their little mod chip raid with the feds. Easier said than done. You can’t cancel your membership on their website. There is no option to do so. Contacting the VGVN about cancelling your membership is met with an automated ignore-a-gram Email. I really don’t think there’s any way you can cancel the account (without insider contacts, at least).

This is, of course, an age old tactic [of] organizations whose credibility (or revenue) depends on the number of members they have. Whether it’s done accidentally or on purpose, the end affect is the same… the VGVN membership numbers will be grossly inflated given enough time, if they aren’t already. VGVN will happily report membership numbers that include people with multiple accounts (if you change Email addresses, you have to get another account, for example) and inactive members who registered just to see what the thing was all about.
The VGVN has since rectified the joining vs. leaving issue, but the basic problem remains: since they're representing the interests of game producers, any issue where the interests of producers and consumers diverge is going to be ill-served by this organization. And there are a lot of places where said interests diverge: the legality of emulation, modding and backups, games being one of the few bits of media that you can't return even if it's terrible or out-and-out defective, possible issues of oligopoly or monopoly in the industry, among many others.

(Hell, there's something to be said for labor organization in that industry, too; game publishers are notorious for over-using "crunch time" to burn out promising designers and programmers, thanks largely to terrible management and budgeting. The ESA sure isn't going to support THAT, though.)

Sure, they're in harmony over not wanting the United States to go down the German path of treating harmless game designers like criminals out of ignorance and scapegoating, but the divergence is real, and definitely means that everybody needs representation, not just the big producers.

Edit: The ECA definitely looks like an interesting choice, but so far there isn't much there yet. I'd definitely keep an eye on it, though.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Non-Coms on "The War as We Saw It"

This piece in the NYTimes, by a group of non-commissioned soldiers (generally sergeants) is one of the better windows into what is actually going on in Iraq today.

VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
There's lots more, but it comes down to that old problem of counterinsurgency: that barring the ability to win over the populace--which is practically impossible now--the only form of counterinsurgency that would work is the sort of savagery that went out with the Roman Empire. That, and the idea that you simply cannot pretend that an American observer being able to walk around translates to anything like Iraqi security. It doesn't.

Digby's concerned that these guys will be ignored or looked down upon because they aren't officers. There's something to that, definitely. Thing is, it actually makes it MORE likely that they should be believed, because the officer corps tend to be a whole lot more likely to drink the Kool-Aid than the enlisted soldiers. There's going to be less spin, and more real-world situational awareness.

And yes, I know I've been making noises about diving into this "serious foreign policy professionals" thing. I'm still not quite sure how I want to approach it. More later or tomorrow, I suppose.

More Later, But For Now...

The argument made by Gideon Rose about how neocons and netroots are similar is pretty odd. I'll have more later, but for now, an allegory.

Socrates is a man.
Plato is a man.
Is Socrates then Plato?

Now, Gideon.

"Neocons" attack foreign policy professionals.
"Netroots" attack foreign policy professionals.
...(Fill the blank in yourself.)

If "foreign policy professionals" are making arguments this weak, then why on earth should they be receiving deference?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Iran Guard "terrorist"?

Well, I guess this settles the question of whether or not a government or its agencies can be called "terrorist". Wasn't expecting the Bush Admin to come down on the side of state-based terrism, though. Opens up nasty questions.

(Somebody let Jason know, huh?)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Wow, I'd missed this clip of Tweety being ULTRA-CREEPY in hitting on CNBC's Erin Burnett on the air. From the transcript:

BURNETT: -- and all those creative types of mortgages. And you could say that's a good thing, but, you know, Chris, I guess just to throw it out there and, you know, be provocative, but also ask a fair question -- you know, maybe not everybody is able to own a home. We like to think of owning a home as a right in this country.


BURNETT: It might not be.

MATTHEWS: Could you get a little closer to the camera?

BURNETT: My -- what is it? Is it zooming in strangely?

MATTHEWS: Come on in closer. No, come in -- come in further -- come in closer. Really close.

BURNETT: What are you -- what are you doing?

MATTHEWS: Just kidding! You look great! Anyway, thanks. Erin, it's great to -- look at that look. You're great.

BURNETT: I don't even know. I'm going to have to go look at the tape here. I'm in a strange location.

MATTHEWS: No, you're beautiful. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. You're a knockout. Anyway, thank you, Erin Burnett.
CREEPY. And, yeah, it kind of smacks of Chris trying to kill those "tweety likes the beefy men" rumors. Still creepy.

(HT: digby, who points out that this is a primo example of "the more subtle forms of sexual harassment [that] drive women nuts.)


While he went a little off the deep end towards the end, Robert A. Heinlein remains one of my favorite science fiction writers. He was a brilliant, talented writer, had a towering imagination, and despite his political opinions differing wildly from mine, I always respected the case he made for them.

One of the cases was in an omnibus of his: Expanded Universe. It was called "'Pravda' means 'Truth'", and it was all about a trip he and his wife made to (then) Communist Russia. It was somewhat comedic, somewhat sad, but the most memorable thing was how much effort the Russians made to ensure that the people in the group only visited those areas where they wanted them to go. There were a lot of visits to stadiums and big factories and whatnot, but very little to the places where real people actually lived. That way, people would return to their home countries and say that the Soviet Union was a little dull, a little gray, but nowhere near as bad as the stories said.

Nonetheless, Heinlein and his wife managed to speak to some of the "Proletariat", and it was their accounts of all the difficulties and horrors of life behind the Iron Curtain that hardened his opinion against the Soviet Union. Definitely a big failure on his handlers' part, right? It's this sort of reaction that all the stage-managing is supposed to prevent. The only reason that Heinlein and his wife were able to do it, though, was because they were skeptical, and took the time to question their handler's stagemanaging.

I was reminded of this story when reading Glenn Greenwald's interview with Michael O'Hanlon. As it turns out, things were almost as carefully controlled:

But the far greater deceit involves the trip itself and the way it was represented -- both by Pollack/O'Hanlon as well as the excited media figures who touted its significance and meaning. From beginning to end, this trip was planned, shaped and controlled by the U.S. military -- a fact inexcusably concealed in both the Op-Ed itself and virtually every interview the two of them gave. With very few exceptions, what they saw was choreographed by the U.S. military and carefully selected for them...The entire trip -- including where they went, what they saw, and with whom they spoke -- consisted almost entirely of them faithfully following what O'Hanlon described as "the itinerary the D.O.D. developed."
There's more, from the actual interview:

GG: The first line of your Op-Ed said:"viewed from Iraq where we just spent the last eight days interviewing American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel..."

How did you arrange the meetings with the Iraqi military and civilian personnel?

MO: Well, a number of those -- and most of those were arranged by the U.S. military. So I'll be transparent about that as well. These were to some extent contacts of Ken and Tony, but that was a lesser number of people. The predominant majority were people who we came into contact with through the itinerary the D.O.D. developed.
It goes on like this, but you get the idea. While O'Hanlon protests that he was mostly surveying the opinion of the US military, the fact remains that as "fact-finding missions" go, this is really no different than Heinlein's trip to Moscow. The U.S. military has been all about controlling perception of its conflicts since the embarrassment of Vietnam. "Embedding" is pretty notorious for this sort of thing, but let's be honest, it's everywhere else too. O'Hanlon saw exactly what the PR guys wanted him to see, and unlike the Heinleins, he clearly never bothered to check otherwise.

Pollack and O'Hanlon didn't even bother to take some time in the places they visited:

spent every night ensconced in the Green Zone in Baghdad. They did not spend a single night in any other city. As O'Hanlon admitted, they spent no more than "between 2-4 hours" in every place they visited outside Baghdad, and much of that was taken up meeting U.S. military commanders, not inspecting the proverbial "conditions on the ground."
So they saw very, very little, and got all their information from people who are paid to give them the best possible interpretation of the situation that won't get them laughed out of the room. Is any military commander going to risk his commission telling the truth to a pair of war boosters who clearly want to hear anything positive you want to say in the first place? Hardly. If you're talking with the type of people who will paint their two hours in Mosul as any sort of on-the-ground experience, you know he'll lap up the spin and ask for seconds!

So serve it up.

Me, I'm with Glenn:

A failure to disclose obviously critical facts that bear on the credibility of their "findings" and a willingness to ground their conclusions in patently one-sided and highly controlled data are far more serious sins than mere sloppiness. It is difficult to avoid reaching any conclusion other than that they willfully served as propaganda tools in order to bolster the perception of success for a war and a "Surge" strategy which they prominently supported and on which their professional reputations rest.
Therein lies the problem with that whole "foreign policy community" thing. Because of the old groupthink on going in, the vast majority of these people are in serious danger of losing credibility. Because it IS a community, they're working in concert to repair said credibility, and the Dems certainly aren't making it tough for them, but you can only go so far before other academics start snickering behind your back. They're hitting that point, and are desperately hoping for a miracle.

Unfortunately, I doubt they're getting one.

Oh, and Glenn is right about one other thing: as someone who's read the academic output of many of the leading Iraq boosters in the "Foreign Policy Community"? Glenn's right. The scholarship is terrible.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Moderation For Thee But Not For Me?

Digby's all about the moderation. Specifically, about how the calls for Republican moderation are, well, moderate compared to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the press over those horrible leftists corrupting the big tent of the Democratic party.

Matt is too.

Digby's under the impression that everybody in the press thinks it's still 1968. Fair enough. But the thing is, it's also about the type of people that they come into contact with in the first place. The progressives that the media types who matter meet are all DLC-style "centrist" Dems. They're the ones with the biggest bully pulpit, who get the most attention, who have the most sway in Congress. Real progressives or, God save us, liberals? Either they're so wrapped up in an individual issue that they couldn't survey the broader political landscape with a compass, binoculars and a map... or they're just not getting on television at all.

Meanwhile, the reverse is NOT true for the Republicans. They have an army of reasonable-sounding extremists, pumped out by the dozens by the Religious Right and scholaresque organizations like AEI, that are willing and able to go on television and give quotes and in general be the working hack's best buddy imaginable. If you need balance between sane and insane, you can guarantee that these guys will not only serve up farm-fresh madness, but they'll do it with "zazz", and "verve", and all those other things that mean "we found someone pretty and well-spoken to be our mouthpiece". They've been thoroughly trained to do this, and they know exactly how to deal with that well-meaning kid from the Sierra club. They'll chew him up and spit him out.

(Which any disinterested television exec is going to absolutely love.)

Of course, what influences television is going to influence print, and even then, it's all about who you know. Does your typical print reporter know a bunch of fairly hard-core, partisan, ideological liberals? Nope. They're probably not part of the DC scene anyway, since the various think-tanks that cater to progressivism don't want that type of liberal: they're (again) too issues focused and too uncomfortable with alienating members of the political discourse. The DC reporters might get a phone call or three from the real partisans, but that's not the same as being a local fixture. On the Republican side, though, there's any number of hard-core, take no prisoners, victory or death IDEOLOGUES who would be more than happy to give you a quote, that know exactly what to say, and probably have a sinecure at some think-tank to give them enough legitimacy to be able to pass off as an "expert". That makes them absolutely perfect for providing an opposing "expert" when you need balance against something so self-evident that no true scholar would think to oppose it.

How to beat it? Simple. Get progressives to Washington. Not as elected officials, although that's important. You need to find, train, and support liberals who can play this role. They'll probably never be as big as their conservative counterpart, because they won't have the advantage of playing the "expert" who is running contrary to common sense. Fine. You still won't have the DC crowd saying "who the devil is this 'Kos' guy, and why is he undermining that Washington fixture, Joe Lieberman?"

I mean, were Kos to be "Resident Netroots Promulgation Scholar" at the Screw Republicans Institute , he might have gotten the shrug that extremist Republicans are getting over their insurgent campaigns right now. The hard right is normal. The hard right is natural. Having them try to take down RINOS is inevitable. At least, in the eyes of reporters who talk to them EVERY DAY.

That's what you're fighting, and you can't do it in the blogosphere. Hate it or love it, you gotta fight it in Washington, and you've gotta find someone to pay the bills.

(Pity that Soros wussed out.)

Holy Crap

If Turd Blossom is bailing out, things must be looking horrific for the Republicans and the Bushies.

(Maybe he's looked at the numbers for 2008 and doesn't want to get blamed for the carnage in Congress.)

Don't let door hit you in ass etc.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Democrats worry Clinton may be drag on down-ticket candidates"

So sez the AP.

Looking past the presidential nomination fight, Democratic leaders quietly fret that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the top of their 2008 ticket could hurt candidates at the bottom.

They say the former first lady may be too polarizing for much of the country. She could jeopardize the party's standing with independent voters and give Republicans who otherwise might stay home on Election Day a reason to vote, they worry.

In more than 40 interviews, Democratic candidates, consultants and party chairs from every region pointed to internal polls that give Clinton strikingly high unfavorable ratings in places with key congressional and state races.

"I'm not sure it would be fatal in Indiana, but she would be a drag" on many candidates, said Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks of Washington, Ind...

...A strategist with close ties to leaders in Congress said Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races would be strongly urged to distance themselves from Clinton.

"The argument with Hillary right now in some of these red states is she's so damn unpopular," said Andy Arnold, chairman of the Greenville, S.C., Democratic Party. "I think Hillary is someone who could drive folks on the other side out to vote who otherwise wouldn't..."

...What the Clinton campaign doesn't say is that her edge over potential Republican candidates is much smaller than it should be, given the wide lead the Democratic Party holds over the GOP in generic polling.

The problem is her political baggage: A whopping 49 percent of the public says they have an unfavorable view of Clinton compared to 47 percent who say they hold her in high regard, according to a Gallup Poll survey Aug. 3-5.

Her negative ratings are higher than those of her husband, former President Clinton, former President George H.W. Bush and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry at the end of their campaigns.

A candidate's unfavorability scores almost always climb during campaigns. If the pattern holds, Clinton has a historically high hurdle to overcome.
Apologies for all the ellipses; the whole article was good stuff, but I didn't want to overquote. Drilling it down to its essentials, it's the same old problem that's always existed with Clinton: that despite her popularity with certain segments of the Democratic party's primary voter pool, she has massive negatives that will probably hurt downticket candidates, drive Republicans to vote against her en masse, and may even push away some swing voters.

Of course, most candidates who face this problem make up for it by courting the base. Republicans are extraordinarily good at using their base to overcome the loathing of progressives towards their candidates, and even exploit it to build up loyalty with said base. That's the problem with Clinton, though: she's alienated the base. The more activist a Dem is, the less likely it is that they'll be a Hillary Clinton supporter, because of her bizarrely "centrist" policy positions.

It's still deeply, deeply weird. Had Clinton deliberately courted progressives, had she been the "sensible left" candidate that I'm sure 2001-2004 Hillary would have been, she would have easily scooped up the base, and been able to combine it with the strong mass of pro-Hillary female voters to create an incredibly viable progressive candidacy. She was the one who was going on about the "vast right wing conspiracy" back when people still made fun of such things, and the base was still quite fond of her at that point. She could have combined the Clinton charisma--and, yes, she does have some--with a progressive base-pleasing platform in a way that her husband never could.

Instead, she's somehow managed to craft a policy platform that alienates everybody who is engaged, whether Republican or Democrats. Republicans will work to defeat her, but the base will be reluctant to work to help her, and might even defect to the Greens out of sheer frustration. You'd think that she'd be trying to smooth away the things alienating her from the base during the debates, but that isn't really happening, either. She's just being aggressively evasive, and annoying them even more for it. It may help her win, but for all the wrong reasons, and she'll have a devil of a time in the general.

It isn't even a money thing, either. Pleasing the base isn't exactly a bad financial position, not in these days of big blog bundlers.

Honestly, I'm baffled. I'm guessing it's the same bevvy of idiot "advisers" that dragged Kerry and Gore down. But why on earth listen to them?

The nicest thing about starting in 2002...

Is that of the many "Demosthenes" pseudonyms out there, I'm the one that has the most technorati authority.

Admittedly, it's not a ton, but at least my name hasn't been usurped yet. (Including by that Nikita Demosthenes guy. Is he still around? Blogging claims so many casualties...)

Friday, August 10, 2007

So, Yeah, America's Going to War With Iran. Here's How.

"The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce".

For some laffs, check out one of the finds made in that TPM newsthingie's comments thread:

You can bet on going to war with Iran. Many in Glenn Greenwald's Foreign Policy Community will be attending a "Transpartisan Dialogue on Iran" on 9/06-9/08, sponosored by Reuniting America(link below).

Partial list of attendees:

John Batiste, Former Commander in Iraq, 1st Infantry Division
Phil Geraldi, Intelligence Analyst, American Conservative Defense Alliance
John Bolton, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Newt Gingrich, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Frank Wisner, Ambassador, Vice Chairman, American International Group
Howard Kohr, Executive Director, American Israel Public Affairs
Dov Zakheim, Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Mattie Fein, President, Institute for Persian Studies
Er, yeah. I haven't got to that whole Glenn Greenwald "foreign policy community" yet (an insular, theoretically dubious, and out of touch foreign policy establishment is NEWS to some people?) but I know a conference designed to justify policy when I see one.

For those who are unsure, this is how it's going to go down. Policy papers will come out of this, they will all ("reluctantly") justify and advocate war with Iran. Some books will follow from these same people fleshing it out and saying bad things about Iran. That will provide the scholaresque justification that the other right-wing henchthingies need to get on board with their various blogs, journals, and newspaper opinion columns. Everybody who was against Iraq will be in favor of going up against Iran, and will no doubt justify it by saying that taking down Iran will render Iraq winnable. Soon other editorialists will argue in favor of diplomacy instead of violence, thus rendering the key question whether to use violence or not. That will legitimize it. It's a choice.

That's print. Meanwhile, on television, Fox News will (naturally) have a full court press. They'll have all the "scholars" and henchthingies on to sound the drumbeat. They'll bring on progressives to argue against it, but they'll be like deers in headlights, still shocked to the point of disbelief that it even got this far. CNN will follow suit, because it's still scared out of its mind that it might completely lose the conservative oldsters that form the backbone of cable news viewership. MSNBC might not, because their best asset is Olbermann and he'll be ripping the shit out of this, but MSNBC isn't really a big player in the first place.

Soon the question will shift from not "whether" to do it, but under what circumstances. Doing that is easy. Just answer progressives' complaints about the necessity of this with the question "well, when would YOU think it's necessary?" Many progressives won't take the bait, but some, poorly media trained, will... they'll agree that there is a line beyond which Iran cannot cross or bad things will happen. Of course, after that, the precedent is set: if "X" happens, America bombs Iran. "X" will originally be horribly unlikely, but all they need to do is shift "X" over bit by bit, and eventually "X" will become inevitable. They will either provoke it, or invent it.

And as for getting Congress on side? Well, that's easy. Scare the hell out of the Democrats. They're easily spooked, as FISA demonstrated. Find some ignorant blue-dog suckers to go along with your guys and Lieberman, and you can start pushing it as "bipartisan". The media will lap that up, and the Dems (not realizing that the media and Washington groupthink are dangerously out of step with America's positions) will become terrified that they will look "weak on national security". Hillary might even get on-side, because her support base doesn't care what her foreign policy is; it's all character and gender to them. She'll probably play ball so that she can chase the AIPAC endorsement (and, yes, AIPAC will back this, though not in any sort of "conspiracy theory" way) and get the media's support as the "centrist". Obama will either have to respond in kind, or will lose his carefully-hoarded bipartisan cred. Either way, the war wins- the presidential candidates backing the war will get their allies in the Congress to help them, and the Congress WILL do so, because the Dems in Congress don't want to piss off someone they're convinced will be the next President of the United States.

You've got print. You've got television. You've probably got a bill through Congress authorizing things. You've got at least two services who really wouldn't mind this happening, because the Air Force and Navy are feeling the pinch of ever-increasing Army budget demands. The Internet is immaterial, as the FISA thing demonstrated; all you have opposing you is a bunch of weaksauce bloggers who are probably going to be divided over the whole thing anyway, just like they were over Iraq. They'll think that now things will be different, or they'll get swayed by their blogpatrons who don't want to piss off the Democratic establishment too much lest they lose what access they have. The liberal bloggers will most assuredly hang seperately: you don't need to worry about them.

And after that, the only problem is that the whole idea is ludicrous. It will be a military disaster of unmatched proportions.

But when has that ever stopped this bunch before?

Liquidity Crisis

Er, yeah, this is worrisome.

What’s been happening in financial markets over the past few days is something that truly scares monetary economists: liquidity has dried up. That is, markets in stuff that is normally traded all the time — in particular, financial instruments backed by home mortgages — have shut down because there are no buyers...

...yesterday’s announcement by BNP Paribas, a large French bank, that it was suspending the operations of three of its own funds was, if anything, the most ominous news yet. The suspension was necessary, the bank said, because of “the complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments” — that is, there are no buyers.

When liquidity dries up, as I said, it can produce a chain reaction of defaults. Financial institution A can’t sell its mortgage-backed securities, so it can’t raise enough cash to make the payment it owes to institution B, which then doesn’t have the cash to pay institution C — and those who do have cash sit on it, because they don’t trust anyone else to repay a loan, which makes things even worse.

And here’s the truly scary thing about liquidity crises: it’s very hard for policy makers to do anything about them.

The Fed normally responds to economic problems by cutting interest rates — and as of yesterday morning the futures markets put the probability of a rate cut by the Fed before the end of next month at almost 100 percent. It can also lend money to banks that are short of cash: yesterday the European Central Bank, the Fed’s trans-Atlantic counterpart, lent banks $130 billion, saying that it would provide unlimited cash if necessary, and the Fed pumped in $24 billion.

But when liquidity dries up, the normal tools of policy lose much of their effectiveness. Reducing the cost of money doesn’t do much for borrowers if nobody is willing to make loans. Ensuring that banks have plenty of cash doesn’t do much if the cash stays in the banks’ vaults.

There are other, more exotic things the Fed and, more important, the executive branch of the U.S. government could do to contain the crisis if the standard policies don’t work. But for a variety of reasons, not least the current administration’s record of incompetence, we’d really rather not go there.
I remember seeing Kramer on the Colbert Report a few days ago, and how worried and freaked out he was over the market. Krugman is a little more bearish compared to Kramer, so this is no big surprise that he's on this, but things really do appear to be going a bit topsy-turvy.

(Hat Tip Sideshow.)

"Do you have any portable primates to declare?"

From Majikthise:

A man was questioned at New York's LaGuardia Airport after a marmoset crept out from under his hat.

When passengers noticed the fist-sized primate on the flight, they asked the man "if he knew he had a monkey on him", Ms Russell said. [BBC]

No one knows how the guy managed to fly out of Ft. Lauderdale with a marmoset in his cap. My guess is that the TSA screeners were too busy confiscating contact lens solution to notice that a non-human primate.
er, not to notice that a non-human primate did what? Inquiring minds.

Anyway, snarkless response: HAH! Clearly now, thanks to the fifth columnists at the BBC, we know what Al Qaeda will be using for their next operation: MARMOSETS. That's right, attack monkeys. Tiny, vicious attack monkeys. And they'll be able to get into the cockpit, too, because what member of the crew can possibly resist an adorable little primate? They'll take it up to the cockpit to show the captain, and that's when the horror starts.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the U.S. is underwriting deforestation: It's a matter of national security. America cannot be safe until we are the only primates left. God only knows what sort of horrible unGodly things a chimp would get up to if he/she had the chance.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Best Thing About the AFL-CIO Debate:


And getting it.

Skip to the end.

If Olbermann hadn't stopped him, I get the feeling he could have followed up with a "throw your hands in the air" and gotten that, too.

Pity that the media hasn't the faintest interest, which is about the only reason why this wasn't a massive embarrassment and problem for the Dems, but I gotta give Dennis his props.

Gibson vs. Olbermann

One bit of props for the Kos Krew though: they youtubed up an AWESOME Olbermann.

Eugene on Bloggers' Irrelevance

the Kos Krew is pretty uncomfortably aware of how much power they demonstrated that they DON'T have when that whole FISA debacle happened. One of the Kos diarists, eugene, talks about the "disconnect":

Watching both of these from afar, I am struck by the disconnect between the two - how at one moment our movement has been given a powerful sense of validation through the experience of Yearly Kos, as presidential candidates came to pay homage and as bloggers came to continue the work of building a new, open, left politics; and how at the other moment, we were completely powerless to stop our Democrats from selling out yet another one of our rights, from giving Bush even more unaccountable and unconstitutional power.
He goes on:

This seems to be at the heart of the disconnect. This year's Yearly Kos seems to have shown that in Democratic campaigns, the netroots are a welcome part of the process. Maybe it's merely because the establishment sees us as an ATM, or because they genuinely believe we wield influence beyond our numbers, or some combination of the two. Although it is quite an accomplishment to have the Democratic candidates appear at Yearly Kos seeking our approval, it seems that's all they seek of us.

I grow concerned that our success is increasingly being limited and confined to campaign politics. It's as if the DC Dems are saying to us "help us get elected, but don't expect us to listen to you once we win." We have not yet developed any effective means of changing their behavior - and really, that is what we really want from them. We want them to stop hoarding the gunpowder and start using it...
The rest is about Democratic policy differences; while interesting, it doesn't really address the central problem. Bloggers have indeed gone up in the world: from being seen as irrelevant, to being seen as a campaign resource. They're seen as a special interest group: to be pandered to when you need volunteers and cash, but they're ignored between elections. (Kinda like labor.)

Now, eugene has a good grasp of the situation, but there's a question not addressed, not really: if the Dems don't listen to them between elections, who DO they listen to? And why? A HUGE discussion followed, and like many Kos comment threads, little was new and what was new wasn't true. Yes, yes, they listen to corporations, but again, why? Corps donate cash, sure, but so do bloggers, and bloggers are the best bundlers around these days. Indeed, that's WHY they're so popular; one of the reasons for the shift away from pseudonymous, policy-based blogging to real-name "netrooting" is because a pseudonym can't bundle, and Kos figured out a while ago that that's where a lot of power comes from. Politicians like money, and Kos can channel it.

So if it isn't campaign cash, what IS it all about? Leaving aside the conspiracy theories and "RepubliCrats" and everything else, and leaving aside the natural tendency towards listening to those you see every day and ignoring the random voice in the wilderness that is your typical blog, who are they listening to? And why aren't bloggers part of that group.

I'm not sure, but I can suggest one thing that has really taken the sails out of Kos' "storming the gates": Lieberman. Power comes from the ability to build, but it also comes from the ability to destroy. I hate to say it, but there need to be consequences for pissing them off. Kos almost managed to drive that point home in Connecticut, but he ran up against an extraordinarily powerful campaign machine and the Republican party's willingness to support its pet "Democrat".

Had he taken Lieberman down, Kos would be one hell of a lot more respected and powerful than he is right now; all bloggers would be. The Dems would get the message that pissing off their base is as disastrous as it is for Republicans. (And it is. Republicans live in fear of their base.) Instead, they got the message that while bringing the bloggers onside is nice and maybe even necessary, ticking them off doesn't carry any serious consequences.

And, yes, the whole "nobody cares what they're writing" problem matters too. The reason why CATO/Heritage/AEI enjoy power on the Republican side isn't just that they're farms for Republican policymakers, but because they can get things published that make it sound like Scholars think you're an idiot and a danger to America. Sure, anybody who knows anything about these organizations knows that you shouldn't listen to AEI, but meanwhile they're all over the television, they're prompting dozens of opinion editorials, getting emailed all over the place, and are going to end up on your opponent's campaign literature.

That's why partisan think tanks EXIST. They provide the imprimatur of scholarly legitimacy on partisan attacks and defenses. Academia can't do that, "leftist" as it is. Issues-based think tanks try to avoid it, as it hurts their issue. The partisan shops, though? It's the entire reason they exist, and at this point they're very good at it.

And, yes, bloggers could do it too, if they were given any legitimacy. Unfortunately, since Kos and co. are treating bloggers as a loud mob, the actual writings don't have much (any?) legitimacy, and aren't listened to. They're just more fodder; a community-building activity at best.

In the meantime, though, as a community, they need to stop and think about how and why Democratic decisionmaking takes place.

And if it is because they're cowards?

Then the bloggers need to give the Dems a reason to fear THEM.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

This Would Be Welcome News

Yeah, yeah, New York Post, but hope springs eternal in the human breast, right?

The New York Times is poised to stop charging readers for online access to its Op-Ed columnists and other content, The Post has learned.

After much internal debate, Times executives - including publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. - made the decision to end the subscription-only TimesSelect service but have yet to make an official announcement, according to a source briefed on the matter.

The timing of when TimesSelect will shut down hinges on resolving software issues associated with making the switch to a free service, the source said.
It was an utterly foolish decision to begin with. Opinion columnists are at their most effective when people are talking about them, and hiding them behind a subscription wall doesn't help that.

Oh, So THIS Is What They're up to

I had wondered what Dion 'n co. were up to, and now I know: they're trying to bring people in from the other leadership campaigns.

Great. Except for one thing: isn't part of Dion's problem that he's already sort of done that, and that they're using it as a way of brutally undermining him to pave the way for the One True Perfessor?

(Who now admits that Iraq was a bad idea. Good on him, might have helped more in 2006. Now it just smacks of "ok, fine, I'll pretend to agree with these smelly hippies to get the post I so richly crave".)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Liberal Bloggers: Unappreciated and Unimportant?

(Update: thanks to Progressive Gold for the link.)

So, at least according to one writer, Bloggers' power ain't what it used to be. Ben Smith at the Politico writes:

Officials of the Democratic campaigns, meanwhile, speak about the Netroots with a new relief and distance.

“Guys like Jerome and Markos -- I look on them like state legislators,” said a senior aide from a different presidential campaign... “They have constituents who matter, but they don’t really matter themselves.”"
Story's more complex than that, but that's what it boils down to: the Washington crew aren't really that enamored of even the big bloggers, and bloggers are lacking the kind of leverage that really gets Washington's attention.

Obama is especially wary:

Obama, alone among the Democratic candidates, hasn’t hired high-profile bloggers or engaged his campaign in their fights -- a move consistent with his strategy of avoiding traditional Democratic constituency politics, and of delivering a similar, universal message to a variety of constituencies.

Instead, Obama has channeled the energy around his campaign to creating an alternative online base of support on As others courted YearlyKos by battling O’Reilly, Obama offered convention guests a handy, apolitical guide to Chicago.

Obama still remains popular among the site’s rank and file, who are in other ways typical Obama voters -- younger and more educated than your average Democrat. But his persistence in casting himself as a bipartisan figure, and of reaching out to Republicans, has limited his appeal to the leaders of the liberal blogosphere.

“Obama has had the advantage on the war, and its ideological underpinnings, but he's not created any other credibility since then, and his lack of partisanship has given Clinton the advantage,” said [MyDD creator Jerome] Armstrong.
I can't say I disagree with Armstrong on Obama; he's a strong candidate, but when even Hillary Clinton is out-partisaning you, you've got a bit of a problem. Swing voters are nice and all, but if you lose your base, you aren't going to get to the general in the first place.

It's a little sad, actually. I'm convinced that one of the main reasons why blogs like DailyKos have been doing everything they can to become all-encompassing one-stop political sites is because they want to be big players. Markos, especially, seems bound and determined to be a big Democratic player, and doesn't care how many "diarists" are providing him with free content so long as this bigger goal is achieved. He clearly wants his site to be like the big Republican "institutes", or the DLC of old, that are absolutely part-and-parcel with the party itself.

The problem is that while having people provide your content for you is pretty much what "Web 2.0" is about, it doesn't necessarily mean that Markos is going to be seen as anything but a representative for his own community. They'll pander to him as much as they need to ensure that he keeps his people on-message and donating time and cash, but don't really care about anything his diarists write. DailyKos isn't like the "institutes": nothing the diarists or commentators write is being cited on television or in print, or really acknowledged by anybody outside the community. None of them are going to be talking heads on television, and while some may have books, they aren't going to be pushed like the right's think-tank stuff. It seems to have stalled as being seen as a "community", nothing more.

(Not surprising: a lot of the "netroots" seemed to stop paying attention to the actual generation and discussion of ideas back in 2004 or so, and for all their faults that's what think tanks and instututes and the like are for. If Kos et al don't care about anything other than scooping up as many bodies as possible under the label "Kossack", not caring about what they've got to say, then why on earth should the Dem leadership?)

What's ironic about all this is that the hat tip goes to Chris Bowers, considering his desperate attempts to seperate the top-tier bloggers from the hoi palloi. Apparently, it hasn't worked. The hoi palloi (in all their numbers) are apparently a lot more important than he is or anything he writes. He claims that...

In the end, it seems that Smith's means of measuring blogosphere influence is how scared insider and establihsment types are of the blogosphere. Frankly, I think that is a pretty immautre appreciation of the situation. If the only thing we had the power to do was scare people in the establihsment, then the blogosphere would never change from the way it operated circa 2003. However, the progressive blogosphere has grown twenty times larger since 2003, making change both inevitable and necessary. It is almost as though Smith is saying "I liked the blogosphere's earlier albums, before they got popular and sold out."
This is a terrible misread of what the article was saying. The point Smith is making is that bloggers are only seen as bodies; that what they write simply doesn't matter. That isn't a function of the size of the blogosphere, and sure as hell isn't "I liked the blogosphere's earlier albums". It's they aren't listening to you anymore, and they aren't interested in what you have to say, because you don't appear to be interested in anything anybody else is saying either. You aren't another voice in a debate, or even a chorus; instead, you're just another schmuck to exploit.

It's not that they've stopped "fearing" you. It's that they've stopped paying attention to what you have to say. And, yes, that's far worse.

Here's a Question..

Where the hell are the Canadian Liberals these days, anyway? Yes, yes, this is the "silly season" on both sides of the border, but it doesn't seem like Dion and his people are even doing the barbecue circuit.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Very Nice

Looks like the Dems are pulling an end-run around the Republicans to get a lobbying bill passed, according to Kagro X at The Daily Borg.

(Ok, Kos. But the assimilation's the same.)

One of the reasons why the Republicans have been able to get away with their obstructionism is that they haven't really been filibustering bills per se. What they've been blocking is attempts to take bills to "conference": the meeting between House and Senate representatives that hammers out the differences between a House and Senate version of a bill. Because they aren't blocking the passage of a bill, the magpie attention span of the media doesn't really alight upon them, and they can get away with it.

The Dems are solving that by simply not running the conference. If both bodies pass the same bill, there's no need for the conference, so they're just working out a jointly-acceptable bill ahead of time and are pushing the bill through both houses at the same time. In the House, they're using "suspension of the rules" to shut down all those stupid procedural tricks the Republicans are trying to exploit, and in the Senate, the Republican face the prospect of having to explain to their constituents why they're actively filibustering the passage of an ethics bill. While there's no guarantee the Dems will get their 60 votes, it's FAR more likely now.

Nice work.