As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, October 01, 2004


Wow, Mills Lane shoulda stopped that one.

All week, the Kerry camp has been trying to raise expectations for the President leading up to last night's meeting in Miami. "He's never lost a debate," they said. "His plain-spoken demeanor will captivate the American public," they said.

I saw no evidence of that last night. In fact, I saw no evidence of the man who doggedly challenged Al Gore in 2000. Kerry had him on the ropes all night. He slammed him on the postwar plan for Iraq, North Korea's nuclear weapons acquisition, the broken homeland security situation in the US, and the lack of focus on Usama bin Laden and his terror network. Here's a few thoughts:

-The split screen revealed what will be seen by many as the "Al Gore sigh" of this debate; Bush's anger, revealed in a smirk. He looked like he didn't want to be there, like nobody should dare challenge him and his policies.
-Bush's only line of attack virtually the whole night was the "mixed message" one; he said it so many times that at one point he threw in a "mexed missages." Kerry defused the flip-flop line utterly by using it first (bringing up a Bush change of policy and indirectly saying "They have a word for that in his campaign."). And he parried the mixed message charge well, relating it to North Korea's gaining nukes on Bush's watch.
-When "nuclear proliferation" was given (by both men) as the answer to "What is the greatest threat to our security," I thought it was 1984. In fact Kerry managed to inject strong liberal policy into the debate (global warming, stopping production of bunker buster missiles, no tax cuts for the rich) without being seen as weak. This is how Kerry became the nominee in the first place; by projecting strength and still maintaining wise policy decisions.
-"The enemy attacked us" moment was one of the finest I've seen in a Presidential debate. Kerry refused to allow Bush to again conflate Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda (Bush even confused Saddam with bin Laden at one point, doing what should be known in the lexicon as a "Rumsfeld"). But Kerry said "Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Usama bin Laden attacked us." Finally. That's almost the first time Bush has ever had that deceitful strategy of conflation smacked down.
-It's a shame Kerry didn't have more time to address his $87 billion dollar vote, but he calculated that he had to simply call it a mistake. And that short declarative ("I made a mistake in talking about Iraq, he made a mistake in invading Iraq. What's worse?") was quite effective.
-There weren't nearly as many lies as I expected, but a couple of them were salient. 100,000 trained Iraqi troops is a huge lie. 10 million Afghans registered to vote is one too. And saying Kerry "wants to get the troops out of Iraq in 6 months" stretches things. Honestly I expected more.
- Bush was just unfocused the whole time, struggling to come up with answers, employing lots of pregnant pauses, saying phrases like "hard work" and "mixed messages" over and over, and generally looking like a beaten man.

I was infuriated by the initial spin on NBC, whose correspondents immediately after the debate asked Karen Hughes "What's the best thing Bush did," and then asked Mike McCurry "What's the worst thing Kerry did," and "Why did it take Kerry so long to admit his mistake on the $87 billion dollar vote?" But I don't think you can even spin your way out of this one. Kerry won, plain and simple. And people know it.

We know it because, just this morning, US and Iraqi forces have begun a major offensive in Samarra. Now, I'm not the world's biggest conspiracy theory guy, but if Bush did better last night, I suspect the no-go zones would've stayed no-gone. I smell dog-wagging here, an attempt to blow the debate off the front page, literally. I have to say it's about damn time we go into these insurgent strongholds. You can't let guerrilla warriors just fortify their position. That's been a major weakness of this Iraq policy. If we're there (and we shouldn't be, but we are, and I agree with Kerry that it's too important geopolitically to lose), we have to at least fight. For all the President's blather about staying on the offensive, this Samarra attack is the first offensive on a stronghold since Najaf. Also, Juan Cole explains that even this offensive is bungled:

The US military launched a major attack on guerrillas in Samarra. Unfortunately, this procedure actually means that they launched a major attack on the city of Samarra. Residents reported by telephone being shaken by a series of massive explosions. Samarra was captured by insurgents early in the spring or summer. The US had attempted to combine force with negotiations to end the rebellion, but the truce broke down when guerrillas launched new attacks on US forces. The guerrillas in Samarra appear to be local youth gangs, whether Arab nationalist or Sunni fundamentalist. Some have recently adopted the colors of Monotheism and Holy War, the terrorist group that originated in Afghanistan and was established mainly in Germany and Jordan after 1989. These clothes and insignia (orange on black) seem to be being adopted by the Samarra street gangs rather as US urban gangs have colors and symbols that show up in their graffitti.

OK, that's enough for now.


Thursday, September 30, 2004

Democracy 2.0

The right to a fair trial is one of the cornerstones of democracy, right? Well, apparently not in New Democracy 2.0 (Iraq version)!

NEWARK, N.J. -- The attorney for a soldier charged in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal said Thursday the government is trying to intimidate defense lawyers and witnesses by making them sign an agreement that they will not sue if they are injured or killed when they travel to Iraq.

I'm pretty sure they won't sue if they are killed. And in some ways, this is simple indemnification on the part of the US government. However, the implicit message here is obviously "prosecute this and you will be killed, and it won't be our fault."

I'm saddened that Sy Hersh's book Chain of Command isn't getting the publicity it so richly deserves. For some reason, the Abu Ghraib scandal has become the third rail of this political season. I'm not sure why. But I don't think we'll see a whole lot of uproar over this latest bullying tactic.

All right, off to watch the debate. Cheers!


That debate was great, wasn't it?

I might not have time to watch the whole debate tonight, but no matter, I'll just rely on the media to tell me what happened before it happens! The Boston Globe and the AP have written debate reports in the past tense:

After a deluge of campaign speeches and hostile television ads, President Bush and challenger John Kerry got their chance to face each other directly Thursday night before an audience of tens of millions of voters in a high-stakes debate about terrorism, the Iraq war and the bloody aftermath...

The debates were staged under a rigid set of rules negotiated by the candidates' representatives to limit spontaneity and opportunities for back-and-forth exchanges.

I've met 30-year pot smokers who are less lazy than our nation's media.

I'll save my debate wrap-up post for AFTER it occurs.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

slammed today

Between a mountain of work, a recently noticed collection item on my credit report (for a credit card I cancelled four years ago) and mysterious medical bills that keep arriving, I was in no way able to focus my attention blogward today. My apologies to all my loyal readers.

The interesting stuff won't happen until tomorrow night's debate, anyway. So let's call today my "debate preparation."

What caught my eye today (yesterday) is the rumored $1 million dollar ransom the Italian government paid to terrorists holding two Italian nationals in exchange for their release. Thanks for making it impossible for everybody, Mr. Berlusconi.

This attempt at a denial in the WaPo is laughable:

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini attributed the release of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta to "all the good things Italy has done" in Iraq. But hours earlier, the head of Parliament's foreign affairs committee and a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said flatly that money "was paid."

"It was right, because the life of the two girls was more important than money," Gustavo Selva, a legislator, told reporters. "In principle, we shouldn't give into blackmail, but this time we had to, although it's a dangerous path. I think it was paid by the intelligence services."

How many guns you think that money'll buy? Some coalition we have here.

Later in the article, it says the captors originally asked for $5 million but settled for the $1 million, because, get this, "A cleric mediated to get the amount of the ransom lowered." Doesn't say if the cleric was Sunni or Shi'a, and given that they're pretty much both allied against the occupation, it could be either.

So a cleric is representing terrorists in a hostage ransom negotiation. Boy, The New Iraq is swell!


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I'm never wrong

The DNC has put together what I think is a remarkable ad. The only visuals are a slow pan into a black-and-white photograph of President Bush. We hear about all the disasters wrought by this Administration, and then concludes with the fact that despite all this, Bush cannot admit a mistake or change course in repsonse to events. This is wonderful, because it hits Bush by attacking his strongest attribute: the notion that he is resolute and strong. It's positively Rovian in its strategy.

And it also happens to be true, and incredibly dangerous for the country. Matthew Yglesias notes this in his latest article, arguing that the Bush apologists in the media are admitting mistakes that Bush never would. To wit:

Iraq may be, in the words of The National Review's Jonah Goldberg, "a mess," in large part because of the president's bungling, but that's not necessarily any reason to vote against him. "So sure," Goldberg concluded, "[George W.] Bush hasn't done everything right -- never mind perfectly -- in Iraq. [Winston] Churchill didn't conduct World War II perfectly every time either."

Max Boot, house neoconservative on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page, reached for an analogy to Abraham Lincoln, who "is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves" despite the fact that "along the way he lost more battles than any other president."

That's all well and good, but the President wouldn't agree with these pundits. He's never made a mistake, remember? And Iraq is going perfectly! Those bombs you hear are the bombs of progress!

Ultimately, his weakness in the upcoming debates and for the rest of the election will lie in his disconnect between fantasy and reality. Much like Bush's father was criticized for not knowing what a supermarket scanner was, W. deserves criticism for not knowing what a disaster in Iraq is when he sees it. Because, in fact, he was told this would happen before the war:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 - The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said.

The "I'm never wrong" President IS wrong, and I believe the American people will eventually come to realize this.


Dateline: 2002

WACO, Texas (AP) -- President Bush is insisting Iraq will not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch.

"My hope is that we can solve this diplomatically," Bush said in a TV interview broadcast Monday. "We are working our hearts out so that they don't develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is to continue to keep international pressure on them."

Wait, I thought the best way to deal with Iraq was to invade their country and make it a haven for terrorists... Oh, that's because this story is about Iran.

WACO, Texas (AP) -- President Bush is insisting Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon on his watch.

"My hope is that we can solve this diplomatically," Bush said in a TV interview broadcast Monday. "We are working our hearts out so that they don't develop a nuclear weapon, and the best way to do so is to continue to keep international pressure on them."

I guess if you demonstably HAVE the weapons, the best solution is diplomatic. If you demonstrably DON'T, the best solution is to invade to disarm the weapons you don't actually have. I've got it now.


Meet Hitch and Sully

I caught Tim Russert's CNBC show last weekend. He appears to have stolen the set and the demeanor from Charlie Rose, with guests chatting quietly against a black limbo background. Much like Russert's idea of "balance" on Meet the Press (which usually consists of William Safire against a "liberal" parrot with a 70-word vocabulary), Russert had on a couple of "politically independent" guests, Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. It's really sad to see Hitchens have to twist himself into intellectual knots to defend the bungled imperialism of the Bush Administration. At heart, his notion is that this is a clash of civilization, and that radical Islam should be crushed (whether or not it's at the service of radical Christianity). But even I was stunned by his assertion that "even if the current Administration doesn't believe so, this is a war of secularism." In other words, despite the fact that this is the most fundamentalist Christian Presidency, perhaps, in history, despite the fact that the wall between church and state has never been shakier, despite the fact that this President has said on numerous occasions that "freedom is the Almighty's gift to everyone," despite the fact that the President has described this as a Crusade, despite the lack of all evidence for his assertion, Hitchens calls this a war of secularism, and then buttons it up by basically saying "it is so, even if those fighting it believe it is not so."

Hard to argue with that kind of logic. Maybe because the logic doesn't exist.

Anyone that doesn't think this War on Terra is a war of competing religions, of the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs against the Islamic system of beliefs, is deluding themselves. Our Constitution has far too many links to Judeo-Christian law for us to act independently of it. In a way, that's the whole problem. To change course in Iraq would be to deny one's own faith, at least to this President. Faith is all that's keeping it going: faith in democracy, faith in freedom, faith in the essential character of man. And never has faith been more blind. Same with Christopher Hitchens.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Blogging on Blogging

Billmon, who was one of my favorite bloggers, has closed up shop at his site, and he wrote a pretty interesting piece for the L.A. Times about the decline and fall of blogging. Part of it sounds like the hipster in your neighborhood that stops listening to his favorite band once they "sell out" and get a hit single. This is politics, not music, however, and he does have a point about the lurch to the mainstream that occurs once anything reaches a certain critical mass:

The media's infatuation has a distinct odor of the deathbed about it — not for the blogosphere, which has a commercially bright future, but for the idea of blogging as a grass-roots challenge to the increasingly sanitized "content" peddled by the Time Warner-Capital Cities-Disney-General Electric-Viacom-Tribune media oligopoly.

When I learned that Wonkette is a contracted blog owned by a corporate entity, I was definitely taken aback. It reminds me of an advertising executive trying to look inconspicuous at the rock club, surreptitiously straining to figure out what the cool people wear. There's a mission creep that can happen.

However, that only looks at a small part of the blogosphere. It completely ignores the blogs like, well, this one, which has a small audience but is beholden to no one, and can express itself in any way it chooses. Yes, I realize I made it sounds like the blog is its own author. I mean me, of course. When I get appreciative emails (there have been a few) or comments or things like that, I'm amazed at what this technology allows. Also, sticky sites like Daily Kos offer an opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. I've managed to reach the front page of Kos a few times, and I'm stunned to see my sig up on one of the most popular blogs out there.

I think the hysteria over Billmon's piece online is largely misplaced flattery ("Look, the L.A. Times is talking about ME!!!), but blogging is clearly here to stay, and in a good way. It's not the exclusive property of the journalist class, and most of the time (IMO) a blog that gets 10 unique visitors a day is far more insightful than one that gets 100,000. In many ways, the blog is merely what citizens did in town halls and public squares for centuries, before the computer and the television sent us all inside with the doors locked. There certainly is a lot more democracy going on in this democracy than there was 4 years ago, and that can only be a positive.