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

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Saving You From Ghosts

Earlier this week, the British government made a big deal about thwarting a terrorist attack that planned to fly planes into Heathrow Airport and targets in London. It seems that you never hear about the attacks that get stopped, and for good reason. Public disclosure could potentially compromise the sources used to stop the attack. That is, unless there never was an attack in the first place:

Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, has denied media reports that the security services foiled a plot by al-Qa'ida to fly planes into the skyscrapers at London's Canary Wharf.

In a pre-recorded interview for Channel 4's Morgan & Platell programme tonight, Mr Hain said: "If there was a specific threat to Canary Wharf or anywhere else, we would have said so ... That leak, if it was a leak, did not come from a government minister or as far as I know a government source."

Asked if there have been any specific threats against Britain since the 11 September terror attacks, he said: "I don't know of a specific threat. But what I do know is that the intelligence services ... have constant intelligence on al-Qa'ida-type cells in Britain."

Maybe the British government is so good at stopping Al Qaeda that their own government officials don't even know about it! Right? Or maybe they're just trying to take credit for absolutely nothing, further proving their worth as a benevolent protector of their citizens. Jeez, I thought the US government was sleazy and underhanded.

The Brits are about to learn the dangers of crying wolf, just as Colin Powell did last week with his unsubstantiated report about Iran readying their warheads to accept nuclear weapons. Once you lie to people, they have a more difficult time believing you again.


Friday, November 26, 2004


Then,when the presidents were announced, Bush tried to push his way past Clinton at the library door to be first in line, against the already accepted protocol for the event, as though the walk to the platform was a contest for alpha male.

-Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian.

Need more be said? If this President were any smaller, he'd qualify as a Kentucky Derby jockey.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

They held an election. The exit polls showed that the challenger won. The actual vote tallies reversed those claims, giving victory to the incumbent. There were widespread reports of voter irregularities.

OK, at the point, if this was the US, you stop reading. Because after that the challenger concedes, the incumbent claims victory, the media ignores or outright ridicules the voter irregularity reports, and everyone goes back to work.

But this is the Ukraine. Where maybe they value fairness more. Or democracy. Or something like that.

Because in the Ukraine, what happens is that hundreds of thousands of Viktor Yushchenko's supporters took to the streets, demanding that the election be annuled. Yushchenko doesn't hide from the protests, but claims the Presidency for himself, taking a symbolic oath of office. He's also called for a national general strike. Election monitors declare the Ukraine vote as below international standards (which they also did in Florida, in case anyone is interested). The protesters have set up a tent city in Kiev, have stormed the Parliamentary building, and have engaged in civil disobedience (remember that, America) to either force a revote or award the election to Yushchenko.

What's really insane is that the US, particularly Republican leaders like Richard Lugar of Indiana, has lined up on the side of Yushchenko, seen as a pro-Western reformer. Lugar was quoted as saying "election day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities." Even Colin Powell has come forward to refuse to support the election results. In fact, there have been several stateside protests (by Ukrainian-Americans) demanding an overthrow of the election results.

It strikes me that the American public seems to care more about the transparency of the Ukrainian vote than the American vote. Our collective hubris, our notion of American exceptionalism, allows us to believe that this only happens in third-world countries, that our system is too perfect to be corrupted in such a way. Never mind that it was probably corrupted in 2000, and questions linger about 2004. The GAO is launching an investigation into the 2004 election. It's not mass protests in the streets, but it's important. We all need to support it.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

We'll Take What We Can Get

At least ONE country won't be making any more weapons of mass destruction. This is the text of an email I got today:
Thank you! Our efforts have paid off in a big way. This past Saturday, Congress refused to approve funds for a new generation of nuclear weapons. This marks a resounding defeat of the Bush administration on this critical issue.

The fight against the President's nuclear weapons program has been our number one legislative priority since 2002. Thanks to your efforts, the Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed this Saturday was missing key programs requested by the President:

* The administration asked for $27.6 million for the nuclear bunker buster, more formally known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, and received zero funds.

* The administration requested $9 million for what is called the advanced concepts research on new weapons designs, a program that could have funded new, lower yield nuclear weapons designed to be used on the battlefield. It did not get a penny.

* The administration's $29.8 million request for funds for a new facility to build plutonium pits for constructing new nuclear weapons was cut to $7 million, and the Department of Energy was barred from using any funds to select a new construction site.

Despite the 51% mandate claimed by the president on Election Day, we have obviously sent a clear message to Congress that bipartisan and grassroots opposition to nuclear weapons funding is strong.

Hey, we're not going to win many fights the next couple years, so let's savor the ones we get. Actually, the systematic crumbling of Bush's legislative agenda in this lame duck session of Congress (no vote on intelligence reform, misdeeds thrown out of the Omnibus Bill like snooping on citizens' tax returns) is pretty striking in the wake of the election. However, reinforcements like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn are on the way to Washington, so we must remain vigilant against the coming far-right agenda.


Kneel Before Zod

So if you're traveling I-4 in Orlando this holiday season, you may be greeted with this:

A billboard recently put up in Orlando bearing a smiling photograph of President Bush with the words “Our Leader” is raising eyebrows among progressives who feel the poster is akin to that of propaganda used by tyrannical regimes.

“The first thing I thought was, when was the last time I have seen a president on a billboard?” wrote resident Dianna Lawson. “Didn’t Saddam Hussein have his picture up everywhere? What next, a statue?”

Yes, the short list of authority figures who plaster their image everywhere for their citizens to see is short yet distinguished: Mao, Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, Assad in Syria, and Ozymandias.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Let's hope the "colossal wreck" part of the poem doesn't hold. But I'm kinda thinking that it might.


Rather Done

Hold your ears from the screams from the right.  CNN is reporting that Dan Rather will step down March 9 of next year.

I can hear Powerline now... "We did it!  We are the overlords!"

Rather will forever be tainted by the Memogate thing, but the truth is he's probably figuring "I'm getting old, and I don't need to do this anymore."  This leaves only Peter Jennings among the old guard.  

Which channel do you think will blink first and dissolve their news division altogether? Bob Zelnick of Boston University actually suggested this on CNN just now, which kind of stunned me. The network news is a dinosaur that simply cannot compete from a profit standpoint, and the accumulated prestige is now negligible. I'm not sure it's worth it to them to keep going anymore.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Blaming the Bloggers

We know that political blogs have hit the mainstream because they were featured on a recent West Wing episode. But the way they were presented shows exactly how fearful the mainstream is of new technology. I'll use the Jupiter Research summary:

One of the characters was involved in accident, where he crashed a large SUV into a Toyota Prius (which as you imagine might create a bit of an image problem for the West Wing if the story got out).

1. The story is revealed via a political weblog and includes a photo from a cameraphone to back it up. Not just blogging, but moblogging :)

2. When the weblog is dismissed, the character is told that mainstream media all read weblogs and the story will be picked up.

3. When the character calls the weblog author, he tells the author they are off the record and goes into a tirade. To his horror, he sees every word he's uttering being posted in real time in front of him. He's subsequently informed that "these people aren't journalists...", implying that a journalist would be "bound" by his off the record comment and not write about it and a blogger would simply ignore it (and did ignore it).

Yes, those bloggers are such amoral louts, always out to get those in power! They need to be represented as the villian to the good upstanding people on The West Wing, who are simply trying to do the work of the American public!

This is a good storyline, but I think it misreads the whole blogging phenomenon. Bloggers are not the enemy of political figures; in fact, they do far more good than harm (in fundraising, in grassroots organizing, in message framing, et al). What's funny is that the character on The West Wing was trying to cover up his mistake, and yet the blogger ends up getting perceived as the one without scruples. The overwhelming message the mainstream media (fictional or not) seems to be saying is that "bloggers should shut up." That was certainly the thrust of this weekend's Washington Post article, which blamed bloggers for leaking the exit polls on Election Day.

It's also time to make our peace with those self-important bloggers who took it upon themselves to release the first rounds of leaked exit poll results. Those numbers showed Democrat John F. Kerry with a narrow lead, which ignited premature celebrations in one camp and needless commiseration in the other -- until the actual votes showed President Bush had won...But rather than flog the bloggers for rushing to publish the raw exit poll data on their Web sites, we may owe them a debt of gratitude. A few more presidential elections like this one and the public will learn to do the right thing and simply ignore news of early exit poll data. Then perhaps people will start ignoring the bloggers, who proved once more that their spectacular lack of judgment is matched only by their abundant arrogance.

Gee, considering the networks all let the exit poll slip show in the hours leading up to poll closings (by interviewing gloating Democratic operatives, by having talking heads on FOX openly debate how Bush lost the election), and considering that blogs didn't leak the exit poll results themselves, they just posted them, why do bloggers deserve all the enmity? How about the actual exit poll leakers, which get no significant mention in the story?

The WaPo also provides an explanation for why the "Michael Moore crowd" (their words) had reason to doubt the election results themselves:

That final weighting also is central to the controversy over real or imagined electoral irregularities. It's true that exit poll results available on CNN and other networkWeb sites late into election night showed Kerry with that now-infamous three percentage point lead, an advantage based exclusively on exit polling and a pre-election survey of absentee voters. When those survey results were statistically adjusted in the wee hours of Wednesday to reflect the actual vote, Bush suddenly -- and seemingly mysteriously -- jumped into the lead nationally and in several key, closely contested states.

But this sort of final adjustment is done on every exit poll. Most of the time, it doesn't matter because there's a clear winner, and the numbers move up or down slightly while the order of finish remains the same. But because this election was so close, the weighting had the effect of flipping the winner and igniting the fevered imaginations of the Michael Moore crowd.

The change in exit polling weighting, however, is probably the least mentioned of all the voting irreguarity issues blogs have brought up over the last few weeks. But it provides a convenient narrative for major newspapers and the networks to discount the irregularities as "wild conspiracy theories" on the "Internet," which are not to be believed by any rational person. Pretty much every major media story on problems with the vote (except for Olbermann on MSNBC) has a defensive air to it, as if the media is determined to defend the status quo. They obviously have a reason to do so, to save their own skins, and knock down the blogosphere's credibility.

So this hue and cry about how horrible blogs are for America and for journalism is very calculated, a desperate attempt to preserve old media as where the real journalists come from, not that Fantasyland online. It'd be funny if it weren't so sad. I suppose everyone resists change, especially when it will have a definite impact on their livelihood. But that doesn't mean it's going to stop. There's a new blog in the world something like every 4.3 seconds. They're not going anywhere. Maybe old media should find a way to use them positively, instead of smacking down and insulting their own consumer base (because who reads more newspapers and watches more cable news than the blogger?).