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

Friday, April 21, 2006

My Dog Isn't This Eager To Please

Via Digby I see that Joe Klein, the only member of Time's columnist corps that they call liberal, again goes out of his way to suck up to the Right, slam Democrats and be dishonest while doing so. This bit from the Hugh Hewitt program (he's the guy who writes books like "Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It" and then claims the Left is angry and mired in a fever swamp) is astounding on all counts:

HH: Joe, what I want to talk about is reverse Turnip Days, moments where candidates were not candid, and I think it hurt them. I want to start with an episode I find odd not finding it here in Politics Lost, which is the Florida recount, and the disastrous attempt by Gore and Lieberman to throw out the ballots of the military. Was that not the sort of authentic moment where we saw the soul of the modern Democratic Party on display?

JK: I think that the Florida recount in general...well, first of all, you're right about that. I mean, too often, the default position, especially in the left wing of the Democratic Party, is to not respect the military sufficiently, and to assume that anytime the United States would use force overseas, we would be wrong.

Those ballots were cast after Election Day. It has nothing to do with the military. Just the other day, one of the "protestors in Brooks Brothers suits" from Dade County, Florida, who staged made-for-TV uprisings while faking being constituents of the county, Joel Kaplan, was promoted to White House deputy chief of staff. But Joe Klein sees this as an opportune moment to bash Democrats for being anti-military.

It's not a problem that Joe Klein has these beliefs; that's his personal dementia. The problem is he somehow represents Democrats on these shows, and by association tars all Democrats with this brush. Democrats are unfairly characterized as having no ideas and standing for nothing. That's only buttressed when you have on a "liberal pundit" who's an idiot, has no ideas and stands for nothing. It's not the Democrats' fault that Joe Klein is so desperate to be liked by his opponent that he willingly agrees with whatever they say. Including a later denunciation of Michael Moore (who I haven't heard a peep from in almost two years, but apparently he represents the entire progressive sphere) spending time in Jimmy Carter's Presidential box during the 2004 DNC, which in reality:

The mundane truth, if anyone's in the least interested, is that we were on the skybox level of the Fleet Center because Michael had just done O'Reilly's show in the Fox booth, and we were making our way down the hallway and Michael was getting mobbed, and one of the Carters happened to see us and invited us to take refuge in their skybox. So, if the question is, "Was a liberal/left filmmaker shown spur-of-the-moment hospitality by a once-prominent political family which has very little power or influence over the modern-day Democratic party?", then the answer is "Yes." But that's where it ends. There were no signals being sent, there was no greater meaning implied. It was a completely random event, utterly lacking the significance some people insist on reading into it.

This is a guy, Joe Klein, who thinks nuclear weapons should be on the table in dealing with Iran because it makes us look crazy (the "madman in the marketplace" theory). This is the guy representing the "liberal viewpoint" in the largest political magazine in the country.

Is there a way to excommunicate someone from a political party?


Great Days In American Censorship

Infrequent contributor Cosmo, who can write an email to me, but apparently can't post this story even though it takes the same amount of keystrokes, notes:

"Really enjoying the article on google in the nyt. especially these proud moments in our involvement with China's love affair with the internet:"

Google's timing could not have been worse. was introduced into a political environment that was rapidly souring for American high-tech firms in China. Last September, Reporters Without Borders revealed that in 2004, Yahoo handed over an e-mail user's personal information to the Chinese government. The user, a business journalist named Shi Tao, had used his Chinese Yahoo account to leak details of a government document on press restrictions to a pro-democracy Web site run by Chinese exiles in New York. The government sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Then in December, Microsoft obeyed a government request to delete the writings of Zhao Jing — the free-speech blogger I'd met with in the fall. What was most remarkable about this was that Microsoft's blogging service has no servers located in China; the company effectively allowed China's censors to reach across the ocean and erase data stored on American territory."

This has actually been a major bugaboo on the right side of the blogosphere in recent weeks. Of course, yesterday our President apologized to the Chinese premier for having to hear from a protestor.

Great days indeed.

Google deserves criticism but nobody's putting any kind of international pressure on China to comply and reform either.

UPDATE: Cosmo adds: "sorry you had to see that democracy mr. prezidente. i thought i got rid of it. i got capitols and i'm using 'em! i think i got all fifty. do you have black people in china town too?"


The Situation Room leans right

"We're going to try something a little different today," says CNN's Wolf Blitzer. That something different was a chummy "strategy session" featuring Bill Bennett, Tori Clarke, and JC Watts, giving some friendly advice to the Administration (when they weren't slandering journalists).

There they were, the leading lights of CNN's conservative movement, slapping each other on the back, laughing about each other's football prowess (Watts) or how good a press secretary they'd be (Clarke), spinning the problems in the White House as merely communications-based, not structural.

"There are so many cabinet secretaries doing great things, they're just not getting out there," said Watts. "The White House just needs to pick four or five things and harp on them, like pornography, that's a big issue for families," noted Bennett (what about gambling addiction?). "I hate to criticize these guys, because they're working so hard," said Clarke. This took up ten minutes on the flagship daytime news show on CNN.

The other topic regarded the firing of a CIA employee for blowing the whistle on the illegal CIA secret prisons to the Washington Post. That, of course, wasn't good enough for Bennett, who wants reporters fired for doing their job. Even Tori Clarke couldn't get behind that. It was the only moment of disagreement in the segment.

"Down the road, we're going to bring in our Democratic analysts to offer their advice..." Wolf said at the end of the segment. Then they teased to the "House Democratic corruption scandal" non-story featuring Allan Mollohan. Every time a conservative group charges a Democratic member of Congress with a crime, see, it's major news. That Mollohan was stepping down as head of the Ethics Committee was "breaking news."

I was a healthier person when I wasn't watching CNN.


More Rove Rumors

David Shuster now summarizing the signs pointing to a Rove indictment:

According to the latest documents, the first time Rove is now described as a subject in the overall case - a subject being a technical term meaning somebody is under investigation. And the latest prosecution documents also go out of their way to suggest that Rove is not going to be a prosecution witness at the Libby trial even though Rove is part of the narrative against Scooter Libby. And the reason that’s significant is because prosecutors usually don’t put subjects on the witness stand for tactical reasons if they want to leave open the possibility of later charging that particular subject in a separate case.

The other thing that has long been intriguing about Karl Rove, and that is, we’ve known for months that in the Scooter Libby indictment when they refer to Official A, Official A is Karl Rove. And the indictment against Libby says that Official A disclosed to Scooter Libby that he had had a conversation with columnist Robert Novak. The reason prosecutors describe an official as an Official A is when there’s pejorative information about that person, and the person has not yet been indicted and had a chance to defend themselves. But we’ve looked at prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s record as far as designating people as Official A or Official B, and in every single case we have found, Keith, that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald when he designates somebody as Official A in an indictment, that person eventually does get indicted themselves.

Oh, and the grand jury met today.

Jane at Firedoglake, master Plame-ologists, makes a great point:

The "latest documents" Shuster is referring to (I believe) is the April 12 filing by Libby’s lawyers. What it actually said was:

The defense is likely to call Mr. Rove to provide testimony regarding Mr. Libby’s conversations with Mr. Rove concerning reporters’ inquiries about Ms. Wilson, as expressly discussed in the indictment. (Indictment, Count One, at p 21). Documents from Mr. Rove’s files about the subjects outlines in the indictment are discoverable pursuant to Rule 16 because without them the defense cannnot effectively prepare for Mr. Rove’s examination. As discussed above, Rule 16 compels disclosure of such documents even if Mr. Rove remains a subject of a continuing grand jury investigation.

First of all, this came from Libby’s lawyers not Fitzgerald. Team Libby has repeatedly used these filings to manipulate public opinion and distract from Libby’s crimes, most recently when they tried to hand Richard Armitage out to dry (something Fitzgerald quickly shut down.) [...]

Fitzgerald has gone to great lengths to limit the information Libby is allowed to see — for obvious reasons. He’s gone out of his way to say who he would not be calling, and put Libby in the position of having to call these witnesses himself. Rove is one of those people. When Team Libby then argued that they were entitled to anything Fitzgerald had about Rove, Fitzgerald countered by saying that they should not be allowed to fish through his files for information with which to impeach their own witness. It seemed to me at the time not so much an indication of Rove’s status than a bit of a clever firewall; Fitzgerald still gets to cross-examine Rove but he doesn’t have to show his hand before doing so. Could make for some interesting courtroom theatrics.

She cautions against reading too much into this stuff, that Fitzgerald plays a long game. It does seem to me like there's a lot of smoke; the grand jury's been meeting quite a bit. And surely Libby's lawyers have to know a little bit about what's going on (although if Rove is a target, they may think it takes the heat off of them). So I think that reading the tea leaves suggests that Rove's in some trouble.


Stop The Insanity

12 prominent physicists wrote this letter to President Bush, practically begging him to take the idea of pre-emptive nuclear weapons off the table. The possibility that we would use nuclear weapons to stop the spread of nuclear weapons is so very insane, and could truly lead to the end of civilization as we know it. I wanted to excerpt part of the letter, but it's so vital that I can't see myself leaving any of it out, and I don't think these physicists would mind whatever meager publicity I can provide:

Recent articles in the New Yorker and Washington Post report that the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran is being actively considered by Pentagon planners and by the White House. As members of the profession that brought nuclear weapons into existence, we urge you to refrain from such an action that would have grave consequences for America and for the world.

1800 of our fellow physicists have joined in a petition opposing new US nuclear weapons policies that open the door to the use of nuclear weapons in situations such as Iran's. These policies represent a "radical departure from the past", in the words of Linton Brooks, National Nuclear Security Administration director. Indeed, since the end of World War II, US policy has considered nuclear weapons "weapons of last resort", to be used only when the very survival of the nation or of an allied nation was at stake, or at most in cases of extreme military necessity. Instead, the new US nuclear weapons policies have significantly lowered the threshold for the potential use of nuclear weapons, as clearly evidenced by the fact that they are being considered as another tool in the toolbox to destroy underground installations that are "too deep" to be destroyed by conventional weapons. This is a major and dangerous shift in the rationale for nuclear weapons. In the words of the late Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his efforts to prevent nuclear war, "the danger of this policy can hardly be over-emphasized".

Nuclear weapons are unique among weapons of mass destruction: they unleash the enormous energy stored in the tiny nucleus of an atom, an energy that is a million times larger than that stored in the rest of the atom. The nuclear explosion releases an immense amount of blast energy and thermal and nuclear radiation, with deadly immediate and delayed effects on the human body. Over 100,000 human beings died in the Hiroshima blast, and nuclear weapons in today's arsenals have a total yield of over 200,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Using or even merely threatening to use a nuclear weapon preemptively against a nonnuclear adversary tells the 182 non-nuclear-weapon countries signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that their adherence to the treaty offers them no protection against a nuclear attack by a nuclear nation. Many are thus likely to abandon the treaty, and the nuclear non-proliferation framework will be damaged even further than it already has, with disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world.

There are no sharp lines between small "tactical" nuclear weapons and large ones, nor between nuclear weapons targeting facilities and those targeting armies or cities. Nuclear weapons have not been used for 60 years. Once the US uses a nuclear weapon again, it will heighten the probability that others will too. In a world with many more nuclear nations and no longer a "taboo" against the use of nuclear weapons, there will be a greatly enhanced risk that regional conflicts could expand into global nuclear war, with the potential to destroy our civilization.

It is gravely irresponsible for the U.S. as the greatest superpower to consider courses of action that could eventually lead to the widespread destruction of life on the planet. We urge you to announce publicly that the U.S. is taking the nuclear option off the table in the case of all nonnuclear adversaries, present or future, and we urge the American people to make their voices heard on this matter.

This is hardly a call for pacifism, but a recognition that we cannot use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear nation, as the result would lower the threshold for nuclear action, and would essentially tell non-nuclear nations to "nuke up" or risk destruction, leading to massive proliferation. This is as dangerous a threat to global stability as I've seen in my lifetime.

There is a project called Divine Strake set for June 2, at which time the US government will blow up a 700-ton bomb (larger than they could possibly deliver by a factor of 5) underground in the Nevada desert, causing a 3.5 earthquake just by exploding. Indian groups and those downwind have filed suit to try and stop this blast, which will send a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas. It is being tested in the same place where nuclear weapons were tested for 40 years, leading to possible spread of radioactive fallout.

Divine Strake is an aggressive show of force meant for a global audience. "Mess with us and get the mushroom cloud." This offensive posture, combined with rumors of tactical nukes, is unbelievably troubling.


Election Competition

The DNC is holding their spring meeting (in New Orleans, becoming one of the first major conventions to take place in the Crescent City since Katrina. A key issue is the primary election debate:

In 2008, Iowa will still have the first caucus and New Hampshire the first primary. But as many as four other states will be added to early weeks of the season -- one or two between Iowa and New Hampshire, and one or two immediately after. On Thursday, Democratic leaders from 11 states and the District began bidding for the available slots.

Everyone claimed an early contest in their state holds the key to winning back the White House.

Southerners said Democratic presidential candidates must relearn how to campaign in states where faith and family values have given Republicans the advantage. "I believe South Carolina is the perfect laboratory to confront ethnic and racial issues, to confront faith issues, to confront economic issues," said Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.). "If you prove your mettle in South Carolina, you will be successful in the United States of America."

Westerners said the future hopes of the Democratic Party lie in their region, where the growing Hispanic population is changing the politics of many states. Mark Brewer, the Michigan state chairman, said Democrats need a big Great Lakes state at the front of the calendar because that region remains the most important battleground in the general election. "If you want to ignore one-third of the [electoral] votes necessary to win the presidency, you take a risk," he said as ominously as he could make it sound.

While on one level this is kind of a political version of attracting tourism dollars, it's a very good thing that the state Democratic parties are fighting to have a voice in the Presidential primary season. We need a 50-state strategy if we're ever going to return to prominence. These states are clamoring for a voice, and I think that Howard Dean's insistence on empowering the state party structures is a major factor. The more broad-based the primary season is, the better. Iowa and New Hampshire's privileged status means that narrow issues get national importance once every four years. I feel that a longer primary season will only help candidates become battle-tested as they move into the fall. In recent years the DNC has seemed like they've wanted to have a nominee by the 1st of February. I don't think that's wide, as it paints a target on your candidate's back for an extended period.

I'm all for this effort.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Anti-tax advocate Norquist not paying his taxes

Makes perfect sense.

Of course, it's illegal, but hey, so's taxation without representation, right? And he's based in DC! So stick it, federal government!


Fitzmas in April?

According to Jason Leopold at Truth Out, Patrick Fitzgerald presented additional evidence to the newly impaneled grand jury yesterday, seeking an indictment of Karl Rove in the Valerie Plame case. That's the rumor, anyway.

The grand jury session in federal court in Washington, DC, sources close to the case said, was the first time this year that Fitzgerald told the jurors that he would soon present them with a list of criminal charges he intends to file against Rove in hopes of having the grand jury return a multi-count indictment against Rove.

This isn't the first time Leopold has reported this, so take it for what it's worth. Still, Rove getting his policy portfolio stripped from him could be credibly seen as an early warning and an attempt at damage control. And now that Fitzgerald is done with his other high-profile case, the conviction of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R), maybe his focus goes back to PlameGate.

But it's all speculation. As a interested observer who's seen and read a lot about the case, I'd say the evidence is there for at least a perjury indictment, but I'm not privy to everything.


About Damn Time

This is low-hanging fruit, but credit needs to be given to a government agency enforcing the existing laws.

The apprehension on Wednesday of more than 1,100 illegal immigrants employed by a Houston-based pallet supply company, as well as the arrest of seven of its managers, represents the kickoff of a more aggressive federal immigration enforcement campaign intended to hold employers accountable for breaking the law, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said today.

Saying the hiring by companies nationwide of millions of undocumented workers is often a form of organized crime, Mr. Chertoff, a former federal prosecutor, said the government will now attempt to combat the practice with techniques similar to those used to try to shut down the mob.

"We target those organizations, we use intelligence to define the scope of the organization, and then we use all of the tools we have — whether it's criminal enforcement or the immigration laws — to make sure we come down as hard as possible and break the back of those organizations," Mr. Chertoff said during a news conference at the headquarters of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division.

The news conference came the day after immigration officials apprehended 1,187 illegal immigrants who worked in 26 states for IFCO Systems North America, a company that supplies plastic and wood pallets used to ship everything from produce to pet food.

Company supervisors knowingly hired illegal immigrants, provided them with housing and transportation to and from work, and even reimbursed one undercover agent for the cost of obtaining fraudulent identity documents, Homeland Security Department officials said.

IFCO is a decent-sized company that must have not been paying its campaign donations on time. There's going to be a lot of pushback on this from companies, but there's urgency on the other side to get something done. Do you know how many companies were fined in 2003 for knowingly hiring illegal workers? 3.

The bigger employers often hide behind subcontractors to essentially maintain plausible deniability over document forgery or knowing hiring of illegals. Breaking up that ring might be even more effective than going after the employers themselves.

I have to say I strongly support the effort to enforce existing laws. Eventually an earned-legalization program will be needed to deal with those illegals already here. But actually cracking down on workplaces will help take care of the growth of the problem, and will end up raising wages for lower-income Americans, who will do the jobs many say "they won't do," if it's at the right price. I believe in expanding the opportunity of America to those who want it. But I believe that nobody should get an exception from the law.

And I support the Minutemen building a border fence themselves because I can't resist seeing a bunch of xenophobes doing an honest day's work, and maybe starting to be sympathetic to those who do the same, for pennies, every day, to put food on their families' tables.


The Men Without A Country

This is a couple of days old, but it's an unbelievable reminder of the debased state of American moral clarity. From The LA TImes:

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a long-shot appeal filed on behalf of two Chinese Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay while the U.S. government tries to find a country to take them.

The men's plight has posed a dilemma for courts and a public relations problem for the Bush administration.

A federal judge said the detention of the ethnic Uighurs at the military prison in Cuba was unlawful but there was nothing courts could do. Without comment, the justices declined to consider an unusual direct appeal of that decision.

The men (Abu Bakker Qassim and A'Del Abdu Al-Hakim) were captured in 2001 in Pakistan. The next year, the U.S. military shipped them to Guantanamo along with hundreds of other suspected terrorists.

The military decided that the two men and 36 others — of more than 550 prisoners — were not "enemy combatants." The standard procedure is to send those people home. But Qassim and Al-Hakim could not be returned to China after last year's vindication because the United States suspects they would be tortured or killed.

Gee, if only the President had an audience with the Premier of China, say today, for example, to receive assurances that these Uighurs wouldn't be killed...

Here's the problem. We've now placed people in a Phantom Zone. We can't keep them in custody because they've done nothing wrong and they aren't a threat to us. We can't send them home because it would be a death sentence. We can't send them to any other country because they won't be accepted. So they sit in Guantanamo, four years after their capture. This is in the greatest democracy on the planet, where the rule of law is sacred. We've literally consigned innocent people to a life of detention.

Digby writes:

Guantanamo is a vivid example of what happens when governments panic and make errors out of hubris, rage, greed and opportunism and refuse to right their wrongs after the fact. We have created a Kafka-esque nightmare that, unless we return to the rule of law very quickly, is going to be embedded in our system, ready to be exploited by any tyrannical figure who can trump up an emergency for political gain.

Don't the Republicans see how dangerous this is? It isn't a matter of partisanship. Any shallow reading of history shows that bad people can emerge from any movement, ideology, religion or party. That's why we have the rule of law --- so that our system doesn't depend upon the good-will of whomever is holding the office.

I'm disgusted that we've now created cracks through which innocent people can fall, that anyone can be detained without being charged basically in perpetuity. And the President is somehow lecturing China in public speeches about human rights. Of course, after the female journalist and Falun Gong member started heckling Hu Jintao, Bush apologized. These two heads of state both know that they should not be embarrassed by the voices of dissent. In essence we have more in common with China than I even imagined.



I'm about to puke hearing Republican strategist Tony Jeffery on "The Situation Room" making a stirring speech about how Big Business is too powerful in Washington, and they're covering for China and its awful human rights record. Of course this was all Clinton's fault. Then he says we need to start squeezing on China, pressuring them with economic leverage. He apparently didn't realize that we borrow billions of dollars from China every month, and that if anything we're being slowly squeezed by them.

Who do you think is responsible for the rise of Big Business in America, which has led to the unquestioning endorsement of globalization, the outsourcing of millions of jobs to cheap labor markets (which, you remember, Gregory Mankiw, the President's top economic advisor, called "a good thing"), and the death of virtually every American manufacturing industry? Did this happen out of thin air? Or was it shepherded along by a decade of pro-business policies under a pro-business Republican Congress? I love how the Republicans are trying this pivot, positing themselves as the country of human rights as it pertains to, say, China, or Iraq (we're the liberators!), when they've been the party of Big Business since the Gilded Age.

These so-called idealist conservatives are bullshitting the public. They like to think that their pro-growth, anti-tax policies spring from some ethically pure fountain, but in actuality they end up pummeling the working class, and providing the greatest stratification between rich and poor in over a century. If Big Business is now the problem, well, guess who made it that way?

China should be pressured to reform their human rights abuses. And business groups should be pressured not to work with them, and certainly not to send jobs over to what amount to sweatshops. But don't try to kid me by standing up as some committed conservative and telling me that you're shocked, SHOCKED to find the power of corporate America in the corridors of power. Who do you think gave them the key?


Only the Names Change

Well, Ibrahim al-Jaafari gave up his bid for the Prime Minister job, and everyone concerned with democracy in Iraq should be thrilled to know that he reconsidered mainly after talking with Ayatollah al-Sistani and leading cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Separation of religion and politics is so 20th century!

The two replacements for Jaafari are other members of the Iran-connected Dawa Party, so I don't know how this changes things. If the ideology is the same, if the reluctance to compromise on certain aspects of the Constitution is the same, if the Shiite and Sunni militias continue to openly battle in the streets of Baghdad, then the war goes on, with Iraqis continuing to fight each other, American troops still caught in the crossfire, and tragedy all around. Meanwhile annual spending in Iraq has doubled, but less than half of the money allocated for training Iraqi troops, the one thing that will get us out of there, has been spent. Corruption is rampant, billions are missing, lives are lost, and the sad story does nothing but continue.

Jeez, why does everything have to be so depressing on my blog birthday?


Blog Birthday

I started this thing two years ago. As of this moment I've had 16,281 unique visitors and almost 20,000 page views. And the stats have doubled in the past year. Incremental progress, but progress.

Thanks to everyone who wastes any part of their day here. Thanks to occasional contributor Cosmo for the six posts back in 2004. Thanks to every public figure who's inspired me to rage or provoked me to thought, keeping the posts coming. Thanks to the traditional media for dismissing me and my blog bretheren. Thanks to anyone who ever linked to me. Thanks to the three people who routinely comment.

And when my Mac Book Pro shows up today (yes!), thanks to Apple for allowing me to post pretty much all day long.


Sure Way To Lose Elections for 100 Years

Tell single people they shouldn't have sex:

On January 26, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would continue to fund Community-Based Abstinence Education programs, further restricting the sexuality education of America's young people.

The new ACF guidelines require programs receiving funds to teach that abstinence before marriage guarantees a happier life, complete with greater wealth, healthy children, longevity, freedom from psychological problems, and better educational opportunities. The guidelines fail to provide evidence to support this guarantee.

The ACF also now requires that programs receiving funds define abstinence in the strictest terms: "voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage." Sexual activity is defined as "any type of genital contact or sexual stimulation between two persons including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse." Suggestions for staying abstinent include avoiding television and not staying out late.

This is not abstinence-only education for teens, but for every single unmarried person. You got that right. No more getting the milk for free, you must buy the cow. And anyone who even mentions contraception in sex education decomes ineligible for funding. This reveals the creepy Puritan worldview that Bush's theocratic supporters hold.

It should also be known that abstinence-only education is full of lies:

In December 2004, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a report that exposed many of the factual inaccuracies presented in abstinence-only curricula, such as the erroneous claims that condoms don't work 30 percent of the time and that HIV could be transmitted through tears and sweat.

The new guidelines attempt to address these inaccuracies by requiring references for all contraceptive efficacy and STI data from ACF grantees. But there are no standards in place to ensure that these references are legitimate, or that the information presented is medically accurate, making the new requirement useless.

No research has proven that abstinence-only programs actually work. What the research does show is that Americans, by and large, are not abstinent people. More than 60 percent of high school seniors are sexually active. The median age at first intercourse for women is 17.4 years, whereas the median age at first marriage is 25.3 years. For men, the median age at first intercourse is 17.7 years, and the median age of first marriage is 27.1 years.

And while virginity pledgers may be more likely to delay sex (on average they have sex a year and a half later than non-pledgers), they're less likely to use contraception when they do have sex, exposing themselves to an increased risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs, including HIV.

Meanwhile, Digby has a couple posts up about "purity balls," events in South Dakota with girls, some as young as 7, and their fathers, in which they all get dressed up like heading to a prom and pledge abstinence and purity. Here's the actual script the girls use:

I pledge to remain sexually pure...until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband. ... I know that God requires this of me.. that he loves me. and that he will reward me for my faithfulness.

And this is what Daddy says in turn:

I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions. But understand that there are no such purity balls for little boys. Then you will see how this is really the time-honored technique of punishing girls because of their brazen sexuality, for tempting the pure and creating original sin. This is the backwards sentiment coming right out of the White House policy shop.


The Decider

As much as I like this Beatles parody and these Dr. Seuss parody poems, I see "The Decider" as a mid-80s renegade private investigator show on CBS, not unlike "The Equalizer".

Here's a promo:

Tonight at 10:

The Decider has a new choice, and he's gonna make it...
"I hear the voices!"
When it comes to protecting friends and shutting up enemies, there's nobody like the decider...
"I read the front page!"
He plays by his own rules...
"And I know the speculation!"
Because he knows how o ignore the rules!
"But I'm the Decider!"
Tonight, on CBS.

P.S. And others have noticed along with me that this "decider" hasn't made a new decision since 2001. It's just musical chairs.

P.S.S. I might have this video made in 20 minutes.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spiral of Doom

Via Billmon (and thank you for coming back to regular blogging, we need you now more than ever), this is exactly what evey Democrat needs to understand about the Iran talk:

Indeed, the danger in this situation could be dismissed if there were other leaders in power. However, in both nations the leadership needs this conflict. President Bush and the Republican party face defeat in November without an issue to galvanize the voting public behind their assertion that they are best able to protect the United States from attack — the only point on which they have outscored Democrats in recent polls. President Ahmadinejad also needs public support for his domestic political agenda — an agenda that is paradoxically opposed by a large number of the ruling clerics in Iran. Every time he makes a defiant assertion against the United States, the public rallies behind him.

This creates what political scientist Richard Cottam termed a "spiral conflict" in which both parties escalate each other's extreme positions to new heights. It is entirely possible that Iran could goad President Bush into a disastrous military action, and that action would result in an equally disastrous Iranian reaction.

In other words, any attack may not be a security decision, but a political one. And both sides are turning up the rhetoric for nothing more than political reasons. In Ahmadinejad's case, he's doing get the people behind him since the mullahs pretty much aren't. Bush is just trying to get his base back.

Billmon, for his part, doesn't totally believe this. He thinks maybe it's more about messianism. Or a variety of factors.

Maybe the most accurate thing to say is that there seem to be a lot of riders in this particular war chariot, and plenty of horses pulling it: Bush's megalomania and his desire to salvage his presidential legacy, the religious right and its love affair with Israel, the Israelis and their fear of losing their nuclear primacy in the Middle East, the neocons and their desperate search for a way out of the quagmire in Iraq. And of course, all those mundane domestic pressures.

Religion, much less personal religious obsession, may not be the hand lashing the whip — or the one holding the reins. But it's pretty clear it isn't just along for the ride, either. Whether the same holds true on the Iranian side I don't know. But right now, the two chariots look uncomfortably like mirror images racing towards each other, trailing clouds (or delusions) of glory. It could be a hell of a crash.

In this day and age, at this time in the 21st century, I don't know that there's very much difference between political power and religious fervor. And that scares the living shit out of me.


Holding Out For A Hero

This is an extremely important article by Michael Tomasky. As much as Democrats and progressives think that they can convince the public on the sheer force of their ideas, that day has, sadly, long passed. In an age when television is still the main source of news and information, you simply cannot distill complex issues into 30-second soundbites, and anyone who tries ends up getting misinterpreted and opening themselves up to criticism (looking at you, Mr. Kerry, although his long-windedness was overblown).

What is needed is a founding philosophy, a call to inspiration, someone to ask Americans to be a part of something greater than themselves, someone to speak to our hopes and not our fears. This would allow the Democratic brand to have meaning and resonance. I read a bunch of Kos and Jerome Armstrong's Crashing the Gate yesterday, and one part that stuck out for me is when they asked Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer what he'd like to hear people on the street say about Democrats. He quickly replied "they're the party on our side." We need to be that snappy.

Tomasky starts by describing the Democratic Party's biggest problem:

The prevailing conventional wisdom in Washington -- that the Democrats have no idea what they stand for -- has recently been put to the test in persuasive ways. In an important piece in the May issue of The Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan demonstrates that the Democrats have in fact become a disciplined and effective opposition party. From their Social Security victory to George W. Bush’s backing down on his post-Katrina changes to the Davis-Bacon law to the Dubai ports deal, the Democrats have dealt the administration a series of defeats -- each of which took a reflexive media, still accustomed to hitting F9 to spit out the words “Democrats in disarray,” by complete surprise. More than that, the Democrats do have ideas; it’s just that no one bothers to cover them.

The party has discipline, a tactical strategy as the opposition, and a more than respectable roster of policy proposals waiting to be considered should Democrats become the majority again. It’s quite different from, say, three years ago. But let’s not get carried away. There remains a missing ingredient -- the crucial ingredient of politics, the factor that helps unite a party (always a coalition of warring interests), create majorities, and force the sort of paradigm shifts that happened in 1932 and 1980. It’s the factor they need to think about if their goal is not merely to win elections but to govern decisively after winning them.

What the Democrats still don’t have is a philosophy, a big idea that unites their proposals and converts them from a hodgepodge of narrow and specific fixes into a vision for society. Indeed, the party and the constellation of interests around it don’t even think in philosophical terms and haven’t for quite some time. There’s a reason for this: They’ve all been trained to believe -- by the media, by their pollsters -- that their philosophy is an electoral loser. Like the dogs in the famous “learned helplessness” psychological experiments of the 1960s -- the dogs were administered electrical shocks from which they could escape, but from which, after a while, they didn’t even try to, instead crouching in the corner in resignation and fear -- the Democrats have given up attempting big ideas. Any effort at doing so, they’re convinced, will result in electrical (and electoral) shock.

I've never seen it put so succinctly and so brilliantly. Too many elected Democrats act like they're ashamed of the D in front of their name, ashamed of their constituency, and ashamed of their own values. They'e completely bought the spin that they must hide their values in order to win. This, of course, is what keeps enabling loss after loss after loss; if you're taught to hide your values and principles, of course the public won't think you have any! We're starting to get Democrats who realize this: I can think of several in the '08 Presidential mix with this pride of ownership (Feingold and Warner and Edwards jump out), and Schweitzer, Jon Tester, Ned Lamont, Eliot Spitzer and plenty of others at the state level espouse this philosophy as well. But Tomasky is absolutely right. It's about foregrounding the principles.

Certainly, today’s Democrats can’t simply return to the philosophy that was defeated in the late 1970s. But at the same time, let’s recognize a new historical moment when we see one: Today, for the first time since 1980, it is conservative philosophy that is being discredited (or rather, is discrediting itself) on a scale liberals wouldn’t have dared imagine a few years ago. An opening now exists, as it hasn’t in a very long time, for the Democrats to be the visionaries. To seize this moment, the Democrats need to think differently -- to stop focusing on their grab bag of small-bore proposals that so often seek not to offend and that accept conservative terms of debate. And to do that, they need to begin by looking to their history, for in that history there is an idea about liberal governance that amounts to more than the million-little-pieces, interest-group approach to politics that has recently come under deserved scrutiny and that can clearly offer the most compelling progressive response to the radical individualism of the Bush era.

For many years -- during their years of dominance and success, the period of the New Deal up through the first part of the Great Society -- the Democrats practiced a brand of liberalism quite different from today’s. Yes, it certainly sought to expand both rights and prosperity. But it did something more: That liberalism was built around the idea -- the philosophical principle -- that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.

This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance -- not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. Any rank-and-file liberal is a liberal because she or he somehow or another, through reading or experience or both, came to believe in this principle. And every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level, she or he believes this, too.

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." That is as powerful today as it was in 1961. We believe in the rights of all citizens; we believe that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere; we believe that the strongest in a society cannot forget the weakest.

What Tomasky does need to realize is that this is a case where the messenger matters. It's no accident that Kennedy uttered those famous words; could you see anybody else doing it? In order to properly sell a message that we should all pitch in for the common good, and that everyone will benefit from such a broad-based concern for the rights and possibilities of all Americans, you need that voice of authority. You need someone who can actually make that case, without sounding like a socialist or a scold. Anytime anyone even dares try to make this case, they're going to be demonized by the opponent and turned into a caricature. We of course know this. It's still crucial to have authenticity to deliver this kind of message.

But if we don't start doing this, we have no reason to remain as a party. We won't be a party as much as a loose coalition of single-issue groups who generally come together under some vague, undefined umbrella every four years. Digby makes a good point about the special interest groups being unfairly targeted, but I really think this is about messaging and framing. There's no reason why every single issue group we have could not agree to this paragraph, and tie it completely to their particular cause:

I believe in the common good and I agree that it expresses the essence of the liberal philosophy. But the heart and soul of the Democratic party lies in its committment to freedom and equality for all Americans. I think we need to find a way to convince a majority of Americans that the common good is best served by not compromising those principles.

It's just a matter, as Digby says, of how you say it. I would add "who's saying it" as well. In the end, this comes down to convincing people that government matters. You're not going to be able to do that unless the fount from which this philosophy springs is, well, convincing.

Tomasky's article is a really great read, which takes us from the New Deal through the conservative backlash and explains how the notion of a common good can reverse the swing in the pendulum. Just that Democrats are understanding the need to come up with something like this is terribly important.

The second thing that has to happen is that Democrats must lead -- the interest groups and the rest of us -- toward this new paradigm. Someone in the party has to decide to bust the mold. I dream of the Democratic presidential candidate who, in his -- or her -- announcement speech in August 2007 says something like the following: “To the single-issue groups arrayed around my party, I say this. I respect the work you do and support your causes. But I won’t seek and don’t want your endorsement. My staff and I won’t be filling out any questionnaires. You know my track record; decide from it whether I’ll be a good president. But I am running to communicate to Americans that I put the common interest over particular interests.” Okay, I said it was a dream. But there it is -- in one bold stroke, a candidate occupies the highest moral ground available to politicians: to be unbought and unbossed.

I'm holding out for that hero.


Bad Time for Reporters

We have so few journalists left doing investigative reporting, and apparently that's just the way that the government likes it. They're getting so belligerent to anyone trying to do their job as the fourth estate that they're even going after dead people:

The F.B.I. is seeking to go through the files of the late newspaper columnist Jack Anderson to remove classified material he may have accumulated in four decades of muckraking Washington journalism.

Mr. Anderson's family has refused to allow a search of 188 boxes, the files of a well-known reporter who had long feuded with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and had exposed plans by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Fidel Castro, the machinations of the Iran-contra affair and the misdemeanors of generations of congressmen.

Mr. Anderson's son Kevin said that to allow government agents to rifle through the papers would betray his father's principles and intimidate other journalists, and that family members were willing to go to jail to protect the collection.

"It's my father's legacy," said Kevin N. Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer and one of the columnist's nine children. "The government has always and continues to this day to abuse the secrecy stamp. My father's view was that the public is the employer of these government employees and has the right to know what they're up to."

It's cowardly for the FBI to wait until Anderson's death to go after him, essentially pestering his 79 year-old widow. Anderson was a brilliant journalist who spoke truth to power and never let our leaders off the hook.

This is essentially an extension of the criminalization of journalism that we've seen from this Administration for a while now. Several 2006 Pulitzer Prize winners are under investigation for allegedly "harming national security" by disclosing government malfeasance. The National Archives tried to pull back thousands of historical documents after the fact last month, in what can be assumed as an attempt to rewrite history. And the Smithsonian Museum has entered into an exclusive deal with Showtime, basically cutting off archival footage to documentarians who aren't working for Showtime.

Over and over again we see the nation's secrets being walled off, leaving the public ignorant as to what is being done in their name. It's bad enough that these guys are trying to rewrite history in front of our faces. Now they're trying to rewrite the past, and punish anyone trying to speak the truth about the present.


Will The Gaggle Ever Be The Same?

Scott McClellan had lost all his credibility with the White House Press Corps. You could make one hell of a greatest hits reel out of his false statements and robotic talking points (in fact, I think either Olbermann or Jon Stewart alrady have). The Press Secretary job typically causes a lot of burnout; having the job as "official BS cover" for the President can't last long.

This is one of those "symptomatic of the whole operation" moments:

After the announcement, Bush and McClellan walked across the lawn together and boarded Marine One, but a problem with the helicopter's radio kept it grounded. The president and his staff were forced to take a motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., where Bush was scheduled to depart for Alabama.

No exit strategy.

The Rove "demotion" is not really a demotion. It's election season, and there are voters to suppress. He's needed elsewhere. In addition, I don't know that he ever focused on his policy portfolio entirely, given how much time he's been spending on his own defense in the Plame affair.

UPDATE: I don't know if this is true, but it's worth pursuing:

The article also says Rove shedding policy role to concentrate on the 2006 mid-term elections. Isn't that partisan campaign work? Not to be performed by people on taxpayer-funded public salaries?

The Bush clan skirting the technical aspects of the law? Stop it.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Busily Planning Away on Iran

Gregory Djerejian, in this post for his site The Belgravia Dispatch, compares prewar quotes on Iraq and Iran, and argues that, basically, we shouldn't believe one word the Administration says regarding a lack of attack plans on Iran, or dismissing use of tactical nuclear weapons as "wild speculation." This deliberate deception would be one thing if it was aimed at an Iranian audience; in other words, "playing poker" about whether or not to attack to keep the Iranians off guard (of course, this only makes sense if Iran is already viewed as the enemy and not a diplomatic partner). But Iran is not the audience for these denials. They know exactly what's likely to be in store for them. That's why they've been ratcheting up the rhetoric and test-firing missiles for the last several weeks (Although, on the rhetorical front, it may be more of a case of Ahmadinejad aggrandizing power, which is angering the mullahs). Iran is under no illusions, and how can they be? To their left and to their right they can see the consequences of war with the United States.

These denials, these demurrals as "fantasy land" any speculation about war with Iran are designed for an American audience, particularly those that read headlines and don't go very in-depth. The plan is to deny any plans for attack right up until diplomacy fails, which it of course will considering the US is remaining on the sidelines in the diplomacy efforts, and Iran won't agree to anything without assurances from the US. Then the Administration will come out and say "Iran will not listen to reason, our only choice is to attack." We've seen this before; that's how it worked in Iraq. In the meantime the plans are made (only for the invasion or the air strike, not the post-attack period).

I think these assurances are also designed to provide cover for our allies, many of whom are on the record against attack. This buys the Administration time to convince the Coalition of the Willing Pt. II that military options are the only hope against Iran going nuclear.

But Djerejian is right to acknowledge that we must assume that war plans are underway, regardless of the denials. These reports, which have shown up in many international papers, suggest that there have been war plans on Iran since at least 2003, buttressed by this op-ed from William Arkin, a former US intelligence analyst:

It's important to talk about war planning that's real. And it is for Iran. In early 2003, even as U.S. forces were on the brink of war with Iraq, the Army had already begun conducting an analysis for a full-scale war with Iran. The analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," was coupled with a mock scenario for a Marine Corps invasion and a simulation of the Iranian missile force. U.S. and British planners conducted a Caspian Sea war game around the same time. And Bush directed the U.S. Strategic Command to draw up a global strike war plan for an attack against Iranian weapons of mass de struction. All of this will ultimately feed into a new war plan for "major combat operations" against Iran that military sources confirm now exists in draft form.

None of this activity has been disclosed by the U.S. military, and when I wrote about Iran contingency planning last week on The Washington Post Web site, the Pentagon stuck to its dogged position that "we don't discuss war plans." But it should.

The diplomatic effort directed at Iran would be mightily enhanced if that country understood that the United States is so serious about deterring the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons that it would be willing to go to war to stop that quest from reaching fruition.

I do disagree with that. Iran does know. It's the American public which is being kept in the dark. There's nothing wrong with the Pentagon making plans; it's their entire reason for being. There's plenty wrong with denying it.


Skilling Grilling

I have been paying attention to it, but I haven't written enough about the ongoing Enron trial, a local case that really does have national importance, as Enron-style business management has sadly become more of a role model in the ethical free-fire zone that is Wall Street. This week it's Jeffrey Skilling's turn to face the prosecution, having just wrapped up a week of testimony proclaiming his innocence. The prosecution pounced on a number of incidents of suspicious behavior in the months leading up to Enron's collapse:

The prosecutor focused on a number of areas in questioning that could last all week, including Skilling's stock sales, which are an element of the indictment against him, the international sales of Enron assets that never took place during his tenure at the former energy-trading giant, and alleged conflicts of interest.

In a line of questioning that had jurors riveted, Berkowitz focused on an investment Skilling made in a startup company called Photofete, a photo-sharing service organized by a woman Skilling knew as a photographer at Enron.

His investment, he testified, was small, about $60,000. The company's contract with Enron also was small, maybe $3,000, he told the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But canceled checks, plus a copy of a wire transfer order Berkowitz entered into evidence, showed Skilling invested $180,000 over a yearlong period beginning in April 2000.

Records also showed Photofete, which jurors learned was headed by a woman Skilling acknowledged dating, had some $450,000 in business, more than half of it with Enron. The energy company by far was its largest customer


Berkowitz challenged several statements Skilling made last week under questioning from Petrocelli. Among them was Skilling's insistence that his Enron stock sales that grossed $63 million in 2000 and 2001 were proper.

Another questioned Skilling's assessment of the worth of Enron's hodgepodge of international assets when he abruptly resigned from the company in August 2001, four months before it filed for bankruptcy protection.

On the stock sales, Skilling testified last week he didn't remember telling his broker to sell 200,000 of his Enron shares less than a month after he resigned.

That sale was held up, and Skilling ended by selling 500,000 Enron shares Sept. 17, 2001, the first day the markets opened after the terrorist attacks.

Prosecutors contend he ordered the Sept. 17 sale because he knew Enron was in financial trouble, not because of markets disturbed by the attacks.

Skilling said he'd forgotten about trying to order the sale of 200,000 shares Sept. 6 that year until he heard his voice on a tape recording played for jurors of a call to his broker.

I expect Skilling to continue to flop around like a fish like this for the rest of the week. The guy made $63 million on Enron stock at the last possible minute before the company collapsed. He was the head of the company, and he claims that he had no idea it was heading into instability. It's The Homer Simpson defense all over again: either Skilling and Kenneth Lay are lying, or they're incompetent. I've actually written about this before, in July of 2004, when these guys did their perp walk:

In other words, I was the leader of the company, but I had no idea that the company was illegally increasing its market value through bad accounting, even though that was the entire modus operandi of the company. Lay was the public face of the company; he was the one who talked to investors about the state of affairs and future prospects. And he was clearly explaining to everyone how good things were going, when in fact the company was on the verge of disaster. So his actual defense is that he wasn't lying, he was just stupid! The head of the company didn't know what was going on at the company? Why do I have trouble believing that?

I wish that some national Democrats would bring up Enron again. This is such a lost opportunity. This kind of business behavior still exists at the highest level, with plausible deniability, accounting film-flamming, and profiting off of the gullibility of American taxpayers. Skilling and Lay will get their justice due, but we need to talk about how Enron set the example that far too many other corporations seem destined to follow.


Bringing It Full Circle

Raw Story is reporting that Scott McClellan may be replaced by the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, Dan Senor.

Considering Senor is MARRIED to a member of the press, NBC's Campbell Brown, it sounds too good to be true. Now the White House Press Corps can literally be IN BED with the Press Secretary!


The Decline and Fall of the News

Atrios brings up the Duke lacrosse team case in its proper context:

I think the nationalization of stories which should basically be local ones is one of the not-talked-about-enough pernicious impacts of 24 hour cable news (and to some extent the internets as well). People are raped and killed every day, but some stories bubble up to the national media for bizarre reasons. In some sense this isn't really fair to the accused or the accuser, as the media attention they get is disproprtionate to the importance of the situation. It also gives viewers a rather distorted view of crime and the justice system generally in this country. And, it provides additional privileges to people who can afford celebrity lawyers/PR people who can spin their way into the press. They also of course take time away from coverage of stories of actual national importance. There are also the obvious race/class issues of which stories get national coverage and which don't, but even without that...

He's absolutely right. The things that used to be confined to the 6 o'clock local news are now being discussed for hours on end by prime-time exploitation specialists like Nancy Grace and Rita Cosby. I could name 10 stories from this weekend in my local paper that had just as much right to be examined nationally as the Duke lacrosse case, in terms of the seriousness of the crimes and the number of people they effect. The national news used to be reserved for national stories, and the main reason for that ws simply a function of time. There was one half-hour broadcast a day, and so you had to hit the top national and international stories within those 22 minutes. There wasn't room for the kinds of trial coverage we see today unless it involved a nationally known celebrity or an event of national importance. In this way the cable news networks pulled the networks along. Since they had to zero in on these stories to fill a 24-hour news cycle, they focused attention on them, forcing the network news to cover them as well.

Another under-discussed aspect of this is the fact that most of the producers and editors and talent in the cable news business typically come out of local news. They're just transposing their vision of how the news works into the cable news environment. It's also cheaper to get feeds of local stories from local affiliates than actually report a story from an overseas bureau (fewer and fewer of which even exist anymore).

There are so many reasons sensationalistic journalism has taken over the important news of the day. The most tinfoil-hat reason would be this: by shifting focus to stories like the Duke lacrosse case, media conglomerates take the heat off of the ruling class, keeping voters less informed about the issues that affect them and allowing the status quo, which keeps both media conglomerates and politicians rich and powerful, to continue.


"I'm the Decider!"

Bush sounded like he was going to jump through the podium and rip somebody's head off today when defending Don Rumsfeld. Really, it was shrill and loud and got louder as he kept going, spitting out phrases like "I'm the decider!" (which, amazingly enough, is a word). You could tell what was going through his head. "How dare anybody criticize me and my judgment!" Either he doesn't understand the existence of dissent in democracy or he just doesn't like it.

And I don't buy this whole "it endangers civilian rule of the military" to have these generals criticize the Secretary of Defense. First of all, aren't these guys retired? Are they planning a retired officer coup? Second, even if they're speaking by proxy for voices within the military, there's a major difference between suggesting a change in leadership and taking up arms against him. I don't believe exercising freedom of speech is a slippery slope in this case.


5:13 AM

At that time this morning, all the alarms in every Fire Department in San Francisco were sounded, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the massive 7.9 earthquake that reduced the city by the Bay to rubble and killed 5,000. I've never been happier to have moved from San Francisco, by the way, than that moment, when EVERY FIRE ALARM IN THE CITY WAS RINGING.

But I love my former hometown, and I'm glad it's getting so much recognition and acknowledgement of this tragedy. I don't think it's just because of the 100th anniversary. The post-Katrina world has yielded a fascination with natural disasters, despite the admission of guilt by the Army Corps of Engineers that levee failure is what caused the flood. Katrina was a man-made disaster, but that doesn't matter. I'm currently working on a show for the History Channel that I like to call "Katrina porn"; it's a "what-if" series that muses about what would happen if other natural disasters ravaged the country, like a volcano in Yellowstone Park, or a hurricane in New York City. Nice, cheery stuff like that. But we're obsessed with it lately, because we've seen the effects of ancient acts of nature on our modern society. The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire was one of the first examples of that. Amateur photographers, a new set of hobbyists at the time, gave us a full picture of the devastation. The Victorian architecture prevalent in the city is a reminder of that time. The last time I was in San Francisco I stayed in the Palace Hotel, where Enrico Caruso was on the morning of the earthquake. Here's his eyewitness account. (By the way, my stay at the Palace was interrupted by a blackout. There's something about that hotel...)

We shouldn't forget that the fire, and particularly the dynamiting of homes to try and create firebreaks, was the source of much of the property loss. And as many as 1 in 6 of the deaths can be credited to the mayor's edict to shoot and kill anyone thought to be looting. These are not new issues.

(p.s. Sorry for no blogging yesterday, I found myself without Internet access all day)