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

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

blogging hiatus

I've got a business trip that'll keep me off the computer the next couple days. I'll probably go back to blogging on Friday. Enjoy the State of the Union without me!

Drinking game: every time Bush says "freedom," "liberty," "personal accounts," or "on the brink of disaster," take a drink. Every time he says "Osama bin Laden," shoot yourself in the head. Don't worry, he'll never say it.


Action Figure Captured in Iraq

Journalists fell for this?

I'll bring you more news of this exciting "ActionFigureGate" soon! You and I and the blogosphere will bring the MSM to their knees! I... I can't keep it up.


Frost Out

Get ready to see Howard Dean on the Sunday chat shows for the next four years.


Voting-for-Food Scandal

I don't think you'll see this one on Free Republic every hour:

BAGHDAD, Jan 31 (IPS) - Voting in Baghdad was linked with receipt of food rations, several voters said after the Sunday poll.

Many Iraqis said Monday that their names were marked on a list provided by the government agency that provides monthly food rations before they were allowed to vote.

”I went to the voting centre and gave my name and district where I lived to a man,” said Wassif Hamsa, a 32-year-old journalist who lives in the predominantly Shia area Janila in Baghdad. ”This man then sent me to the person who distributed my monthly food ration.”

Mohammed Ra'ad, an engineering student who lives in the Baya'a district of the capital city reported a similar experience.

Ra'ad, 23, said he saw the man who distributed monthly food rations in his district at his polling station. ”The food dealer, who I know personally of course, took my name and those of my family who were voting,” he said. ”Only then did I get my ballot and was allowed to vote.”

”Two of the food dealers I know told me personally that our food rations would be withheld if we did not vote,” said Saeed Jodhet, a 21-year-old engineering student who voted in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad.

There has been no official indication that Iraqis who did not vote would not receive their monthly food rations.

Yeah, somehow I don't think they'd give that indication OFFICIALLY. See, it's a little something called "intimidation." You don't vote, you starve. Go read the whole article, guys, it's a little stunning. But of course, why wouldn't we expect intimidation and thuggery from a Prime Minister who personally shoots prisoners in the head.

Freedom is on the march! (as long as people want bread...)


Monday, January 31, 2005

That Liberal Media

So I'm down to three TV channels (or as I like to call it, "living 70s-style") thanks to a short gap in my satellite service. Which means that over dinner I actually took a peek at World News Tonight. How novel, watching the evening news! Peter Jennings was resplendent in his telejournalist-on-assignment-mandated khaki vest, and at the end of the broadcast, he delivered a "final thoughts from Iraq" story about living with the military in Baghdad for the last several days. It was the typical "these boys are counting the days to go home, you get to know your subject pretty well in a situation like this" story I've seen dozens of times, basically a journalist inserting his perspective into a news item that does not require it. But one quote of Jennings' struck me:

"In the nine days that we spent in country, the troops weren't inclined to talk politics. The Bush Administration need not pass down talking points to the young men and women we encountered."

Well, Peter, they may "need not," but the Administration does pass down talking points, and they're not just handed to a few soldiers, they're mandatory. What's more, this story broke two weeks ago.

Media Training Now Required for Iraq-Bound Soldiers

By Joe Strupp, January 18, 2005

NEW YORK - As the U.S. military approaches nearly two years in the Iraq conflict, media training for soldiers going into the war zone has been stepped up, becoming mandatory for Army troops since October, E&P has learned.

"Talking point" cards for military personnel, meanwhile, are being updated regularly as the war progresses -- often as much as once a week -- to keep up with the conflict's changing issues and the proximity of embedded reporters. Among the current talking points: "We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all."

Hey Pete, ever think that the soldiers aren't talking politics with you because they're TOLD not to talk politics with you?

Such training has also included pocket cards with suggested talking points for the combatants, which advise them how best to promote the military operation and avoid awkward or confrontational interviews.

A list of "wallet-card" talking points given to a group of Marines heading to Iraq, obtained by that newspaper, included:

• The Marine Corps is trained, resourced, and ready to accomplish its missions. We are committed to the cause and will remain in Iraq as long as we are needed.
• The fight in Iraq is tough, but we will remain steadfast and not lose heart.
• We are moving forward together with the Iraqi government as partners in building a future for the sons and daughters of Iraq.
• Coalition forces will help our Iraqi partners as they build their new and independent country and take their rightful place in the world community.
• Our troopers and their families are our greatest and most treasured resource.
• The Corps is a national institution -- it has never failed to do the will of the American people.

What's funny is that Jennings, while steadfastly believing that he is not being spun, is in fact being spun the whole time:

On our last patrol in Baghdad, the hands on a 50-caliber weapon belonged to a woman who looked younger than my 20-something-year-old daughter.

Their commander said they are all much better trained than the Vietnam generation.

Do you think that comment comes out of thin air? Don't you have an inkling that such a position might be something the Administration would want to push? Just because the soldiers didn't come right out and say "I love my President" doesn't mean they weren't offering you talking points, points that you willingly took and swallowed and enjoyed and returned for seconds.

Jennings, like most anchormen, is little more than a bobblehead, and seeing that it was the kind of piece he would write himself, I'm not surprised he would be so ignorant. But as the face of ABC News, his mindset suddenly becomes conventional wisdom, which is what makes the comment so unsettling. How about trying this sentence on for size instead?, "The troops weren't inclined to talk politics. Maybe that's because they've been told by their superiors to stick to the script; indeed, they've been trained to interact with the media much like they've been trained to shoot a rifle."

Somewhere, Edward R. Murrow watched World News Tonight this evening, and promptly threw up.


Levelheadedness from an Expert

Professor Juan Cole weighs in on Iraq's elections (probably too broadly excerpted, but it's damn good stuff):

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world... But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

...the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group...

So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables. It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.

With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen. (This is the part of the process that I called a "joke," and I stand by that.)
This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.

Many of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.

... I was thinking that the electoral "successes" were more a function of a first step toward ousting the US military presence than a first step toward democracy. People act in their own self-interest most of the time. If the US draws down its occupying presence, Iraqis will believe themselves to be more secure, right or wrong.

...also, Cole today reminds us that 72% turnout has quickly dived down to 60% (hey, still better than the US!), and that we're up to 44 deaths from Sunday's guerrilla attacks. In Sunni-rich Samarra, turnout was around 7%.

...and three more Marines dead today in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. The insurgents aren't about to stop.

Anyone else surprised that the high expectations and cheerleading are turning more dour and realistic?


The No-Facts Zone

I think pretty much everybody who blogs has an overstated belief in their own self-importance (except for me, of course). But this has been far more pronounced on the right side of the aisle, the self-proclaimed "defenders of the truth" who vanquish Big Media with a click of the mouse. 'Cept, you know, when THEY are fact-checked themselves, it, um, doesn't matter:

As a graduate student in public affairs at the University of Minnesota, I recently heard an in-class presentation by John Hinderaker, who, with partner Scott Johnson, runs the Powerline blog. Powerline played a role in breaking the Rathergate affair and was recently named "Blog of the Year" by Time magazine.
Prior to Hinderaker's presentation, the week before the November elections, I visited the Powerline site. To my surprise an Oct. 27 post covered alleged voter fraud in Racine, Wis., my hometown. The charges involved the registering of illegal aliens to vote. The story seemed outrageous, so I made a few phone calls to check it out.

What I discovered was troubling. There was no factual basis for the voter fraud allegations. Powerline posted the story based on the word of a single individual employed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). This was hearsay at best, posted as "news" at a time when voter registration efforts by the Democrats and 527 groups were coming under fire by conservatives.

At class I asked Hinderaker if posts to Powerline were fact-checked. He was dismissive of the question, so I asked if he was aware that the Racine voter fraud story was inaccurate. He stated that he was not, slapped his hands together and stated that the blogosphere was all about speed and therefore did not allow for fact-checking. Mr. Hinderaker went on to say, "Our readers let us know when we get it wrong."

No, fuckstick, the blogosphere is NOT all about speed if you end up misleading your readers (or outright lying) because of it. In fact, this is exactly what people like Powerline accused CBS of: rushing to the story for partisan purposes. So if you're COMMITTED to doing so, um, by your very standard, you're no better.

I believe it was Digby or somebody who laughed at this notion that rightblogotopia has that they are somehow faster and more accurate than the "MSM". I don't see any of them reporting from the front lines, or am I wrong? Commenting on what you read in the paper or online is noble (hell, it's what I'm doing right now), but it is in no way a substitute for actual journalism. In fact it depends on actual journalism for its survival; otherwise, what would it report? I guess the answer is, the hearsay of single individuals employed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

With the possible exception of the telegraph and Movietone newsreels, no new media has spelled the end of old media. They adapt and change, or just keep steamrolling along. 25 years into the cable news era, the nightly news on ABC, CBS, and NBC still get higher ratings. The radio hasn't gone anywhere.

In other words, get a life, dudes, we're not that damn important. And we're really not important if we decide that we'll NEVER correct ourselves or bother to check our sources.



Damn. I forgot to do my imitation of what every right-wing blog would write on Sunday, the day of the Iraqi election. "This is a great day for democracy." "For all you liberals wondering why we were in Iraq, this is why, mofos!" Etc., etc.

Look, elections in and of themselves aren't going to be a panacea any more than all of the other "signature" events in the country were. In fact, the elections aren't over, the votes aren't counted, and when they are (and when they show an extreme Sunni minority, since the turnout in that region was so sporadic), THAT will be more of a test of democracy taking hold. Whether or not the Sunni riot, decry the elections as illegitimate, or storm the Parliament will tell you what path down which Iraq is headed. Also, do we know about the legitimacy of the counting, given that Judith "I was proven fucking right" Miller was crowing on Chris Matthews last night that she thinks disgraced Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi was going to be "made" Interior Minister, giving him control over the police?

I've seen too many bad days and too few good ones to expect a turning point just because I'm told there is one. South Vietnam had elections too. Really good ones. 83% turnout. It didn't really end the conflict.

On another note, I'm shocked about how poorly administered the Iraqi elections were for expats in the United States. Less than 10% of those expats even bothered to register, because there were only 5 polling locations in the entire country. For every "uplifting" story of how somebody drove 2,000 miles from Seattle to participate in the historic elections, there are 10 others, unreported, from those who didn't bother. Would it have been that hard to put a few more polling sites in the country?

We should be ashamed that we don't know how to handle elections as well as they do in Baghdad, despite our 220-year head start. the way, I love how CNN et al is spinning the pathetic US expat turnout as "almost 94% of those who registered voted!" Yeah, because they had to travel to the site, register, and then travel to vote a week later. If they made the effort to register, it goes without saying they'd do the same to vote. The point is that 10% of all expats actually voted.

...also, via Tom Tomorrow, I see the thoughtless and insulting false comparisons by the right-wing blogosphere have continued:

IS THIS A GREAT COUNTRY, OR WHAT? Our drunks are more lethal than their insurgents.

This enigmatic little entry links, in turn, to a blogger who notes:

Number of people killed in Iraq on election day: 35 (source: The New York Times, 1/31/05)

Average number of Americans killed daily by drunk drivers: 47 (source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2003 data)

Tom goes on to relate his personal story of having his mother run over by a drunk driver. See, statistics that you think illustrate your "points" (even though Iraq has 1/10th the population of the US) actually have human faces behind them. Idiots.

Or, to quote the Insta-moron, who's on quite a roll of stupidity these days, "Indeed."