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

Friday, August 18, 2006


Very busy day for me. Enjoy the links to your right for now.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

California, no Redistrict for You

After the State Senate OK'd a citizen-based redistricting plan, the State Assembly scuttled it, meaning it won't appear on the 2006 ballot. I don't know if this helps or hurts Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I think it's a mistake, as I support rational redistricting reform (not the confusing and prelude-to-a-disaster redistricting measure that was on the ballot last year). I do think that you should have to wait at least 2 years, if not longer, once your ballot measure has been defeated to put it before voters again. A parental notification law is on the ballot again in November, 12 months after its defeat in the special election. This is merely a callow attempt to drive up hard-right turnout for an initiative that's already been beaten multiple times.

It is interesting that it was Assembly Republicans who fought to keep redistricting off the ballot for 2006, preferring to wait two years. That kind of obstructionism would hurt Arnold if anyone thought he was a Republican anymore. But then again, who knows who he is?


ArnoldWatch 2006 - Arnold and the Traditional Values Coalition

It's beyond time to take a hard look at the man who California voters will decide in 12 weeks whether or not he should be allowed to continue to be their governor. This is a guy who's apparently so assured of his re-election that he's planning business trips to India in 2007 as if the governor's race itself is a fait accompli. What's he know about Diebold that we don't know? Kidding. But complacency can be very damaging to an incumbent, and this announcement is that type of move (or a trash-talk maneuver to get an aura of inevitability around him).

It shocked me that Angelides actually got some favorable coverage for his new Clinton/Warner economic plan (outside of my coverage, of course!), and Dan Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee thinks playing on the trust issue could bring dividends:

It's becoming increasingly clear that one of the major themes of Phil Angelides' campaign for governor will be an attack on the credibility of the incumbent, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "He's not the man you thought he would be," would be one way to summarize the premise.

It's a line that could work to some degree with just about everyone, depending on what they expected from the novice politician they elected governor in 2003.

Arnold as a politician has been like the weather in New England; if you don't like him, wait a minute. His 31 Flavors governorship is bound to disappoint everyone should they really look at it closely. Like, for example, conservatives:

With the vote on his reelection just over 12 weeks away, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a wave of conservative unrest that threatens the steady political recovery he has made this year by widening his appeal beyond his base of Republican supporters.

To keep conservatives in line, Schwarzenegger campaign operatives have quietly launched efforts to rally support among Christian fundamentalists, gun owners and other Republicans who have long been wary of the governor and backed him only begrudgingly.

His stands on illegal immigration, the state's swelling debt, gay rights and other matters continue to rankle many of them, and his high-profile courtship of Democrats and independents risks repelling them further as the campaign intensifies.

Schwarzenegger faces no danger of a broad defection of conservatives to his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides; polls show they overwhelmingly favor the governor.

But their tense alliance with Schwarzenegger, combined with a foul election climate for Republicans nationwide, could spell a low conservative turnout in the Nov. 7 election. And if what is now a wide Schwarzenegger lead over Angelides narrows after Labor Day, as many analysts expect, low conservative turnout will loom as a key peril for the governor and prime source of hope for Democrats.

There's a little nugget in the middle of this article that I think liberal Californians might want to know about:

Meanwhile, to drum up support for Schwarzenegger among evangelicals, the state party has hired Ben Lopez, a lobbyist for the Rev. Lou Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition, a group that seeks to outlaw abortion and roll back gay rights.

The Traditional Values Coalition didn't want surviving members of gay and lesbian partnership to receive survivor benefits after 9/11. The TVC accuses gays and lesbians of "recruiting kids" into homosexuality. A top story on their site claims that gays are on a campaign to undermine the military. TVC worked to keep sodomy laws on the books in California. TVC founder the Rev. Lou Sheldon once said this:

“Americans should understand that their attitudes about homosexuality have been deliberately and deceitfully changed by a masterful propaganda/marketing campaign that rivals that of Adolph Hitler. In fact, many of the strategies used by homosexuals to bring about cultural change in America are taken from Hitler’s writings and propaganda welfare manuals.”

This is the ace in the hole that will keep Arnold's conservative base happy with him. A right-wing hate group, plain and simple.

Somebody should ask Arnold Schwarzenegger if he agrees with his backers at the TVC that gays are using "Hitlerian propaganda warfare" to undermine America.


Pictures At An Exhibition

I'm a little late to the party with this, but I wanted to comment on the conservosphere's latest scalp collection, namely the revelation that a Reuters stringer was doctoring photos to make them appear more ominous, including a particularly awful use of the Photoshop clone stamp. I'm about as amateur as they get when it comes to Photoshop and I think I could have done a better job.

I do feel like the story, and the plaudits in the press for Little Green Footballs, the all-Islamohysteria all-day-long site that is credited with the revelation, happened in something of a vaccuum. The best photography site on the Web, by a wide margin, especially when you're talking about the psychological impact of photojournalism, is BAGNewsNotes. And they have an interesting thesis about the motivations of Adnan Hajj, the Reuters photographer in question:

If there are points of agreement between the photographers and the wingnuts (including the belief that Hajj's excuse -- that he was simply trying to "eliminate dust" -- was ridiculous), the photogs are as amazed as reticent as to why the act occurred. Of course, the right wingers want to believe that Hajj is a Hezbollah sympathizer and, thus, was somehow darkening the photo to make it more foreboding. If that's true, however, that still doesn't explain why Hajj would execute this particularly awkward and bone-headed retouch. (Well, the experts and checkers at Reuters who approved the pic might object to the "bone headed" reference, since they were none the wiser until the Rathergate crowd caught it, and flipped out.)

Along those lines, the most telling piece of information that came out of the Sportshooter discussion was the theory that perhaps Hajj wanted to be caught.

As a clinician, I have been taught that you follow the data, no matter where it leads, how weird it seems, or how divergent it is from your best (or favorite) hypothesis. I've had a bit of a chance now to look over these shots and check out various other Hajj pics appearing recently in various media. I've also taken a little survey of Hajj's work in the YN thread over the past four weeks. I don't have a good explanation for the "why" either, but I wonder if the "motive" might be as much psychological as political.

Maybe you'll think I'm crazy -- once you hear this -- but it's possible Hajj might have been obsessed with smoke.

He's got a sample of 11 of Hajj's photos taken over a two-week span, all of which foreground smoke. And practically all of the captions contain the phrase "Smoke rises..." It's really kind of an interesting hypothesis and not entirely at odds with the right wingers. The guy has possibly become so shell-shocked by burning rubble and smoke that he thought enhancing it would be the ultimate act of propaganda - when in fact his retouched photo doesn't really make the scene look any worse than it did before.

Michael Shaw, lead blogger at BAGNewsNotes, also quotes a photographer friend at the Huffington Post, who writes that the photos at Qana - which have also come into question by the conservosphere - display a particular trait of Middle Eastern society, namely the deliberate staging of photos:

Much of the debate about "staging" in Qana can be deflated a good deal by an appreciation of cultural differences. Among many Middle Eastern Muslims the display of the dead is very much a ritual part of dealing with death. Palestinian funeral parades, with or without media present, are a demonstration of this. While the display of the dead may appear callous and disrespectful to many western eyes, it is likely interpreted as a form of honor among those who actually display the dead - an attempt to give meaning to something senseless.

Photographing the display is not necessarily deceiptful, but rather an honest record of the extraordinary ways people react in these terrible circumstances. And a rescueworker displaying a body does not a Media Mogul the rescue worker make. He/She is still a rescue worker. Though the caption for pictures from that portion of the event should read "Rescue workers display the body of..." rather than "Rescue workers remove the body of..."

Appreciating cultural differences has never been their strong suit.

And neither has appreciating the fact that propaganda in war is a tool used pretty much universally since time immemorial. What's interesting, however, is how the stakes don't have to be as high as war for the photo-doctoring to come out on the Republican side of the aisle in America. It merely has to be a threatened loss of power.

You'll notice the clever shading on Howard Dean's upper lip. Here's the undoctored photo:

And before you think that this is just reading a Hitler moustache into nothing, you'll notice that, where the image was hosted, quickly changed the photo once anyone found out.

So the idea that a few extra wisps of smoke planted in a photo is completely unprecedented, whether within wartime or without, strikes me as a bit myopic.

See also Eric Boehlert for a different perspective on this story.


There's This Thing Called The Law

The Ace of Spades is but one of the many voices on the right that want to have it all ways at all times, and either willfully or just obviously neglect fundamental truths when making their ridiculous assertions. Yesterday he delivered this beaut claiming equivalence between a legal and an illegal program. The post was about the British government's use of wiretaps in the slowly unraveling civil aviation plot, conducted 100% under existing British law:

Note that when bugs are being planted inside the area afforded the greatest amount of privacy protection -- the home -- the "warrant" required is a warrant not from an independent judge, but from a member of Tony Blair's government, his Secretary of State. (A position I confess sounds American, but I imagine the UK Telegraph knows what it's talking about.)

How, exactly, is this different than Bush's Attorney General issuing similar warrants on his own authority? That's provided for in the Patriot Act, or at least was, before liberals went after it. (I confess I don't know if that's still permitted or not.)

It's different because one (the British system) is legal and another (the NSA program) is in question. And instead of taking the word of the guy who confesses that he "doesn't know" what the hell he's talking about, I'll take the word of the federal district court judge who ruled on this today:

Fox News reports a federal district court in Detroit has ruled that the Bush administration’s NSA warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

A separate federal district court in San Francisco had previously rejected the administration’s argument that the courts could not hear the case due to a “state secrets” privilege. The lawsuits have alleged that NSA program violated the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as a number of federal statutes, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The defendants included AT&T and the federal government.

To which Mr. Ace pithily responded, Whatever. And then wonders why the Democrats in Congress haven't just offered legislation to fix the problems they have with the NSA program. 'Cause, you know, Democrats are in control of Congress.

You can argue whether or not the British way of doing things is proper or not, but it's immaterial to the discussion. The point is that the Brits acted within their own system of laws. The President, since BEFORE 9/11 mind you, most certainly has not, stepping outside the prevailing law of the FISA court to trump federal statutes. That makes it unconstitutional, as was verified by this ruling today. See, there's this thing called the law, and it varies from country to country, and the common sense opinion is that one's heads of state should follow the laws of his own country. I could get a map if you need more specificity.

Of course, this won't be the end of the legal challenges, but this is a significant victory for anyone who, you know, is cool with the rule of law.

Glenn Greenwald has more in-depth coverage of this story. The judge is getting totally smeared by the right, apparently because she let the facts of the law get in the way of the Great Big War on Terra!!!


Starting a New Gig Today

So this morning session might be all she wrote for me. You never know what kind of downtime you'll have on a new gig, plus you want to be on your best behavior.

I'll leave you (hopefully not for long) with this story, which shows me which way the wind is blowing. The lobbyists on K Street are akin to the big money in Vegas. When a lot of money gets dumped on a game, you can tell that somebody on the inside knows something, or at least thinks they do. Similiarly, you can tell a lot about what's fixing to happen by how the uber-insiders are positioning themselves:

Washington lobbying firms, trade associations and corporate offices are moving to hire more well-connected Democrats in response to rising prospects that the opposition party will wrest control of at least one chamber of Congress from Republicans in the November elections.

In what lobbyists are calling a harbinger of possible upheaval on Capitol Hill, many who make a living influencing government have gone from mostly shunning Democrats to aggressively recruiting them as lobbyists over the past six months or so.

"We've seen a noticeable shift," said Beth Solomon, director of the Washington office of Christian & Timbers, an executive search firm that helps to place senior lobbyists and trade association heads.

Actually I think this is a horrible development, but not unexpected. Lobbyists think they can control both parties by using the purse strings. They sense the zeitgeist, and they're shifting to the left. My hope is that, if the Democrats do take the House or Senate, they slam the door in the lobbyists' faces. If they had an ounce of self-respect, they would do so, considering how the lobbying community undermined them for over a decade. But I'm not holding my breath. Washington is still a company town. At least for now.


That Other Little War

With the war in Lebanon, and now the war on JonBenet, the Iraq war has amazingly become lost in the shuffle. I really think the Republican Party is counting on Iraq fatigue among the media, the fact that it's not a "new story," to keep it out of the spotlight until November. Of course, more voters list Iraq as their primary issue than any other. So people will seek out these latest developments:

• July was the worst month for civilian deaths in the history of the conflict, with 110 Iraqis killed every day. That'd be 1,000 a day dead in this country, just to give you a sense of it. This is after the so-called panacea of the Baghdad security plan, and after US troops moved in to the capital to help quell the violence.

• That unity government is showing cracks as the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament might be resigning:

The speaker of Parliament said Monday that he was considering stepping down because of bitter enmity from Kurdish and Shiite political blocs, revealing the first major crack in Iraq’s fragile unity government since it was formed nearly three months ago.

The speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, is the third-ranking official in Iraq and a conservative Sunni Arab. Shiite and Kurdish legislators have banded together to try to push him out, mainly because he is considered too radical.

Since taking office in late May, Mr. Mashhadani has publicly praised the Sunni insurgency, called the Americans “butchers” and denounced the idea of carving up Iraq into autonomous regions, which the Kurds and some Shiites support.

“Maybe now is the best time for me to withdraw,” Mr. Mashhadani said in a telephone interview. “My hand won’t be stained as they want it to be stained.”

• Strikes have also doubled against US troops and Iraqi security forces. This might be in part because of the troops moving into less secure areas like Baghdad. But this comment is frightening:

Bush administration officials now admit that Iraqi government’s original plan to rein in the violence in Baghdad, announced in June, has failed. The Pentagon has decided to rush more American troops into the capital, and the new military operation to restore security there is expected to begin in earnest next month.

Yet some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraq’s democratically elected government might not survive.

“Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy,” said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

“Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect,” the expert said, “but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy.”

This is at the very end of this story, by the way. Talk about burying the lede. That should be its own story.

This "forgotten war" is not likely to be forgotten so long as there are 135,000 American troops over there, despite the best efforts of those sympathetic to the Administration. Those that ask "well, what's YOUR idea for Iraq" need to understand that the time for good ideas in Iraq are over. We passed that over a year ago, as I've continually said. There are no good options left. It's a hard pill to swallow, but the sooner everyone does, the sooner we can have a realistic conversation about how to best stop the bleeding.

UPDATE: Top cheerleader in Iraq Thomas L. Friedman loses his shit, but it sounds curiously like "Cheney, you idiot, you fucked up my lovely little war!"


Why To Challenge Everywhere

At the beginning of the year, even after the victory of Tim Kaine in the Virginia governor's race, it was extremely likely that Sen. George Allen would receive little more than token opposition. Harris Miller, a telecommunications lobbyist and friend of former Governor Mark Warner, announced in January, but he had a very specific constituency, and was not likely to have made this race any closer than, say, millionaire Jim Pederson in Arizona right now against Sen. Jon Kyl. I don't expect Miller would have received any national campaign money, and Allen would have surged to victory, freeing him up for those trips to New Hampshire and Iowa of which he is so fond.

Jim Webb's presence in the Senate race has forced Allen to barnstorm around Viriginia. It's made him nervous, even if Webb is not within ten points yet (though Allen is still under 50%, and that's a 3 week-old poll). And I submit that it DIRECTLY led to this week's Macaca incident, which for all intents and purposes has ended Allen's Presidential aspirations. Now, he may still win his Senate race. And considering his performance this week, he may have stumbled somewhere else down the line. But George W. Bush was allowed to basically sneak up on the voters in 2000 without facing any significant pressure, and his handlers were able to ferret that empty suit into the White House (thank you, Katherine Harris). Allen is dumber than a bag of hammers, but he could have run the same kind of aw-shucks good ole boy, stage-managed campaign to victory. This guy was the LEADING CANDIDATE for 2008 among insiders in the Beltway, by all accounts. Forget about McCain, or Guiliani, this was the guy the Party was looking to as their next standard-bearer. He was good for the fundies, good for the base, and good on their issues.

This is why you challenge everywhere. Jim Webb is a great candidate, and he's forced George Allen into a horrendous gaffe that would otherwise not have happened in a race that was a foregone conclusion. Win or lose, I don't think we'll see George Allen in New Hampshire very much anymore.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Big Media D-Day

In the aftermath of the infamous Bill Bradley incident, I was asked by the Capitol Weekly, an insider paper in Sacramento that covers state politics, to pen a few words about blogging and journalism and the future of media.

This is the result, and it's my first op-ed in a print edition of any reknown, and it makes me happy if only for the fact that somewhere tomorrow morning, Bill Bradley might wake up and pick up his copy of Capitol Weekly and see the name of his nemesis in the byline.

Please give it a read if you get a moment.


The March of the Moderates

I do think that the blogosphere in general can become something of a partisan echo chamber that naturally creates a more standoffish mentality. But I really appreciate Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum and Digby's takes on their evolution because I recognize them. Only I recognize them from the other side. This line from Kevin Drum is significant:

THE (FORMERLY) MUSHBALL MIDDLE....Josh Marshall talks about the change in his writing over the past few years:

"I guess I'm one of those partisanized moderates Kevin Drum has spoken of (not sure that's precisely the phrase he used.) That leads to a certain loss of nuance sometimes in commentary and a loss in the variegation of our politics generally. As a writer, often it's less satisfying. But I cannot see looking back on all this, the threat the country is under, and saying, I stood aloof."

I've tried harder than Josh to retain a moderate tone over the years, but this describes me pretty well too. And just recently I've been thinking about what a genuinely profound story this is, one that the mainstream media ought to be more interested in. Instead of writing incessantly about "angry bloggers," they ought to be asking why so many mild-mannered moderate liberals have become so radicalized during George Bush's tenure. It deserves attention beyond the level of cliches and slogans.

I can't say that I've had exactly the same experience. I'll out myself by saying I briefly worked for the Nader campaign in 2000. (In a safe blue state, don't throw me to the wolves, guys!) What the last 5 1/2 years have taught me is exactly how much elections matter. You're never going to have ideological purity in choosing candidates, certainly not at the national level. But that doesn't mean there isn't a HUGE difference for the country and its citizens. In many ways I've become MORE moderate since jumping on the blog train in 2003, or at least more pragmatic. I would say that there's a big difference between becoming "radicalized," as Drum puts it, and just picking a side in an environment that doesn't allow for much in the way of nuance.

Politics have become professional wrestling in many ways, and I'm not happy about it either, but I think we all recognize that you can either capitulate or get in the ring. The "irate" characterization is nothing more than playing the game the way it needs to be played in this current environment. The ideological appellation, be it moderate, progressive, liberal, leftist or whatever, is largely beside the point right now. The way the Republicans have played the game for over a decade demands a unified front that is willing to mix it up. The whole "angry left" trash talk is just a pose, a way to push Democrats off the line. They don't want us playing on their turf, because if that evens out, it'll come down to a matchup of ideas and the public record.

And we can't have that.


FEAR Unit Having a Banner Week

Federal Even-yeared Anti-terror Response (FEAR) Unit is on the ground, in the skies, and at the ports, making sure that wherever there's the faintest hint of terror, they'll ensure that it's hyped, overblown and put on a silver platter for the news media.

Earlier in the week they got hundreds of reporters to hype a threat to the Mackinac Bridge, and two days later the FBI had to admit that there was no terror connection in the arrest. Today, fighter jets were scrambled to divert a plane from Heathrow that had a disturbance on board. I support discretion being the better part of valor. What I do not support is the fact that initial report claimed the female passenger was carrying "a screwdriver, Vasoline, and a note referencing Al Qaeda," and later reports determined that there was nothing of the sort.

Officials denied earlier media reports that the woman had been carrying a screwdriver and a note that made a reference to Al Qaeda. The T.S.A. confirmed this afternoon that the woman was carrying hand cream, which is prohibited under new carry-on rules, and matches.

But, Mr. White said: “There is no nexus to terrorism with this event at this time.”

But the desired effect has already been made. People got scared today because the word "Al Qaeda" was brought up in the context of a diverted plane. How did "Al Qaeda" make it into the report in the first place? Who knows. But the media is an all-too-willing co-conspirator in hyping any threat, no matter how miniscule or unrelated to terror. That's what FEAR Unit banks upon. In fact, they've already moved on to the next threat that may or may not end up being germane.

Since last week's foiled civil aviation plot came out of Britain, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. But clearly there's a problem with FEAR Unit meddling in these investigations, and making mountains out of molehills. In fact, Craig Murray is wondering what the hell's going on over there:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.

The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.

I'm not willing to call it a hype job just yet, but in the age of FEAR Unit you have to let these things play out to get to the truth. This was a year-long investigation that could be shut down at any time, according to sources in Britain. The timing of the arrests can legitimately be questioned. I don't mind a little overreaction (from the perspective of prematurely shutting down terror plots, etc.) in the name of national and international security. I mind the way this information gets used to ramp up fear to its absolute maximum effect right off the bat, and then over time the veracity of the initial claims dissipate. This has happened literally dozens of times over the last 5 years.

It means FEAR Unit is doing their job.


CT-Sen: De-Committefying

This is what should have been done immediately:

A group of Senate Democrats is growing increasingly angry about Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) campaign tactics since he lost the Democratic primary last week.

If he continues to alienate his colleagues, Lieberman could be stripped of his seniority within the Democratic caucus should he defeat Democrat Ned Lamont in the general election this November, according to some senior Democratic aides.

In recent days, Lieberman has rankled Democrats in the upper chamber by suggesting that those who support bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq by a certain date would bolster terrorists’ planning attacks against the U.S. and its allies. He also sparked resentment by saying last week on NBC’s Today show that the Democratic Party was out of the political mainstream.

Democrats are worried that Lieberman may be giving Republicans a golden opportunity to undermine their message.

“I think there’s a lot of concern,” said a senior Democratic aide who has discussed the subject with colleagues. “I think the first step is if the Lieberman thing turns into a side show and hurts our message and ability to take back the Senate, and the White House and the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] manipulate him, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people in our caucus.”

There are consequences to disrespecting the results of a primary election, and in the process trashing the Party to which you supposedly belong. Lieberman has pledged to caucus with Democrats, probably in order to try and get his fellow Senators not to campaign for Lamont. But one prominent Dem is unhappy:

That's bunk. That's scare-tactic bunk. And it's an unfortunate statement from somebody of Joe's quality, and I regret it....

I'm not going to stand for those scare tactics, that's exactly what the Republicans have been doing for the last years. They avoid a real discussion by throwing out a slogan and they scare people....

It's a disgrace that people are playing to the lowest common denominator of American politics, which is fear.

Joe's thumbing through the Republican playbook, and nobody's too happy about it. But Ned Lamont is playing to hopes over fears, which might work in an election year where the voters are all feared out:

Here are the four lessons of my business life that I talked about every day on the campaign trail, and that have resonated with Connecticut Democrats:

• First, entrepreneurs are frugal beasts, because the bottom line means everything. In Connecticut, voters are convinced that Washington has utterly lost touch with fiscal reality. We talked about irresponsible budget policies that have driven the annual federal deficit above $300 billion and the debt ceiling to $9 trillion. Meanwhile, the government is spending $250 million a day on an unprovoked war in Iraq while starving needed social investment at home. I am a fiscal conservative and our people want their government to be sparing and sensible with their tax dollars.

• Second, entrepreneurs invest in human resources. Our business strives to pay good wages and provide good health benefits so that we can attract employees that give us an edge in a competitive marketplace. Well-trained and well-cared-for people are essential for every business these days, particularly in a global economy. It's getting harder and harder for American businesses to compete on price, but we innovate and change better than any economy on the planet. The quality of our work force is one of America's competitive advantages--if our education system fails our children and our employers, we'll lose the future.

That's why I talked about my work as a volunteer teacher in the Bridgeport public schools, which can't afford to be open later than 2:30 p.m., schools that send children home to an empty house. That's why my campaign offered a strong alternative to standardized tests and No Child Left Behind. That's why I believe in an employer-based health-care system that covers everyone, and providing tax benefits to small businesses so they can provide insurance without risking bankruptcy.

• Third, in a market-driven economy, entrepreneurs can never lose touch with what customers, suppliers and workers are saying. A great strength of our campaign is that we embraced the grassroots and netroots, suburbs and inner cities, and used the most advanced technology to empower our door-knockers and activists. We listened hard and respectfully to what voters told us, and gave them the confidence to trust someone new.

• Finally, entrepreneurs are pragmatic. Unlike some politicians, we don't draw a false strength from closed minds, and we don't step on the accelerator when the car is headed off the cliff.

By every available metric, the "stay the course" strategy in Iraq is not a winning strategy. Changing course is neither extreme nor weak; it is essential for our national security.

We start with the strongest, best-trained military in the world, and we'll keep it that way. But here's how we'll get stronger by changing course. We must work closely with our allies and treat the rest of the world with respect. We must implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and put in place real protections for ports, airports, nuclear facilities and public transit.

This is the common-sense approach of applying learned skills and behaviors to good government. It has nothing to do with the scorched-earth campaign Joe Lieberman is running. The voters have already decided in Connecticut, and now they'll have to decide between hope or fear.


Angelides Offers a Plan

This morning, at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles in Hollywood, Phil Angelides announced a new plan to take the tax burden off of the middle class in California and restore tax fairness to the state. Considering how much money has been spent distorting the facts of Angelides' fiscal plans, it was good to see him fight back and squarely place himself on the side of working families.

Phil was introduced by State Superintendent Jack O'Connell and was joined by US Rep. Brad Sherman of the San Fernando Valley, among others. His speech was a pretty direct statement about "restoring the promise of California," a hopeful speech that played on his roots as a son of Greek immigrants, who needed student loans for college.

My impressions of the speech, more pics, and details on his proposals on the flip...

Phil comes from the middle class of the state, and though he's built his own business and career, he wants to return hope and opportunity as "the birthright of the many, not the privilege of the few." In fact the entire speech was very resonant of a "people versus the powerful' message, with Angelides hammering home points about the Governor lining the pockets of the special interests, producing larger and larger deficits with reckless "borrow and spend" policies, cutting public education money at a time when the state in 43rd in per-student spending and 48th in student achievement, raising tuition and fees statewide, and providing no options for affordable health care. And Phil also made one other thing clear: he never invoked the name "Schwarzenegger" without also invoking the name "Bush." It was the "Bush-Schwarzengger" fiscal plan, the "Bush-Schwarzenegger" health care crisis, the "Bush-Schwarzenegger" special interest racket, the "Bush-Schwarzenegger" low road versus the "high road to prosperity and opportunity."

Angelides' plan for his first 100 days as governor are as follows:

-cleaning up the budget mess by eliminating the $4.5 billion dollar deficit, cutting down on tax cheats, and fixing corporate tax loopholes. He specifically alluded to "balancing the budget the way Bill Clinton did," and referenced the infamous Schwarzenegger comment of a couple days ago that he has "no plan to end the deficit."

-restoring tax fairness by returning families with income over $1,000,000 to the same tax rates they had under Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.

-accounting for every government spending initiative without borrowing; in other words, pay-as-you-go.

-after fixing the budget mess, Angelides pledged to cut taxes on all middle class families making up to $100,000 a year, a proposal he claimed would impact up to 4.5 million families and seniors. The amount of the cut was a little unclear, though he did give a figure of around $660/year for some families, and promised further details later.

-rolling back the double-digit tuition hikes on California's state schools under Schwarzengger.

-offering property tax relief for low-income seniors.

-indexing a minimum wage increase to future rises in overall inflation (which the governor has specifically disavowed in his own minimum wage proposal).

-cutting taxes for small business (up to $5,000/year) and expanding micro-loan programs, and using the power of CalPERS to invest in small business, particularly in the inner cities.

-fully insuring all children in the state.

Angelides closed by alluding to the "special interest-funded ad" that Arnold's been running showing Phil walking backwards. "It's Phil doing the moonwalk," he said. But he turned the ad on its ear, saying that he did want the state to go back to fiscal sanity, back to rising wages and opportunity for the middle class, back to California being a nationwide model for higher education, and more.

My thoughts are that focusing on the middle class is a familiar but winning tactic. Wage stagnation and rising costs on necessities like energy and health care have caused a real squeeze for the majority of Americans. Now that the housing market is reaching a soft landing, middle class families cannot rely on refinancing anymore to stay afloat, either. Angelides is taking a sharp focus to the problems facing the middle class and offering a real alternative. It's a positive vision that offers hope that we can stop the gravy train in Sacramento that far too often works for special interests and lobbyists instead of working people. There was ample media coverage at the event and hopefully this will get some actual play, and not just a story about "charisma" but one that details the actual agenda Phil is offering for the state.

At the end of the speech, the cloud cover broke and light streamed in through the skylight, falling right on Angelides as he finished his remarks. Nice stagecraft.

Here are some more photos.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

America's Next Top Union Fight

Today, I spent about an hour out on the picket lines with the writing staff from "America's Next Top Model." This group of 12 has been out there since July 21, when the production company for the show refused to negotiate with the writers for a WGA union contract, after multiple notices and letters asking for union recognition. This is the latest chapter in an ongoing effort to unionize reality television and place it on a level playing field with its scripted television counterparts. A good backgrounder about the America's Next Top Model strike is here. The AP ran a story as well.

“These writers merely want what other writers in this industry already have: health insurance, a portable pension, residuals, and fair pay. To achieve this, they have taken the brave step that no writer should ever be forced to do: they put their pens down and picked up picket signs. For this determination, guild writers everywhere salute them and support them,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone.

The labor movement has fallen precipitously over the last 60 years, and its position as the backbone of working America, fighting for the rights of employees everywhere, has suffered. In my opinion, Hollywood is characterized as "the Hollywood Left" because it's a strong union town, willing to collectively stand up for its rights and expectations in the face of management. And because practically everybody consumes Hollywood products, the strike at America's Next Top Model can be a teachable moment for the value of labor movements.

Unions are frequently seen as extorters, but they're capitalists working within a capitalist system, getting the best price they can for their labor. The current system in the television industry, in which I work, where scripted shows work under union contracts, get full health care benefits, portable pensions, residuals, and set minimum rates, and reality or nonfiction shows do not for no other reason than the genre of show on which they work, is ridiculous in its inequity. It's happened because management saw a way to get away with it.

Union identification among younger people is lower as less and less people come from union families. A union card is a badge of honor in Los Angeles, a sign of arrival, and there's definitely a sense that new people in the industry feel that they're not entitled to union membership out of the box. Because nonfiction shows were not covered by existing Writer's Guild contracts, management basically found a loophole whereby they could lock staffers into weekly salaries with no overtime and no benefits, in full violation of existing labor law. Most employees working in reality television are paid fairly well, but without any Guild standard, every production company is different, and some have exploited the situation to a severe degree. Here's a testimonial from the Reality United website:

The reality organizing campaign began in June 2004 when seven bedraggled story producers just back from the Australian Outback met with WGAw staff and officers to talk about their recent experiences working in the field. Twelve hours was a short day for these storytellers as they worked outside in more than 100+ degree heat. One story producer recounted a 40-hour stretch during which time he was only able to sleep an hour and a half— the other 38½ hours he spent working.

To quote another industry professional:

However, if the work I do - and love to do - in Reality TV were covered under a WGA contract, it wouldn't be an issue. I'm not averse to long hours. I fully expect the occasional unrealistic deadline.

And uber-demanding bosses are a given in this industry. Crafting a story is both a skill and an art. And it's unreasonable that we receive no benefits when so many production companies and networks benefit so much from us.

These companies make millions in profit off of a genre of television that isn’t very expensive to produce. Add that to what product integration brings in, and it’s even more. Claims that there's no money to provide storytellers with benefits are absurd. I have a hard time believing that providing a handful of people with health insurance will send a large multi-national corporation into hock.

All of these issues have culminated in the America's Next Top Model strike, which according to the WGA staffer I spoke with is the first picket line organized by the Guild in FIFTEEN YEARS. Somewhere along the line, he said, the Writer's Guild lost touch with the fact that they were a labor union, and that unions only survive on the basis of their membership. They were slow to recognize that management was using all kinds of loopholes to go non-union in animation, reality, cable, internet, mobile phone, and a bunch of other types of programming.

You don't have to like reality television to know that these employees aren't being treated fairly. Storytelling is the same whether the script is written before the production shoot, or after. The production staff did a good job in the AP story explaining their job function:

Sara Sluke and Kai Bowe, who have been picketing outside the production offices of "America's Next Top Model" since walking out more than two weeks ago, say their challenge is to avoid casting doubt on reality TV's legitimacy.

They're not claiming that they create dialogue for contestants and are eager to dispel that assumption, the women said. But they argue the work they do in shaping the series constitutes storytelling and they want to be represented by the WGA, which is eager to do so.

"There seems to be this idea that we feed lines to the girls and that we really do manipulate the actual shooting. That is not true at all," Sluke said.

Instead, the striking staffers _ whose job titles are show producer or associate show producer, and who collectively are known as "the story department" _ are responsible for distilling about 200 hours of raw footage into a cohesive and dramatic episode.

"We look at primary characters, maybe look at who is being eliminated that week, and craft an arc so that their elimination is either something the viewers are sad about or happy about," Bowe said.

Other secondary story lines are decided and, after an outline is drafted, the writers scrutinize the footage and choose "line by line how to best tell the story and craft it to a 41-minute episode with a beginning, middle and end," she said.

That makes them eligible for WGA representation and benefits they now lack, including health insurance, pensions, wage minimums, residuals and credits, Bowe and Sluke said.

The going rate for storytelling in the industry has been set through decades of hard work by the Writer's Guild and other unions. Put simply, management is getting away with murder.

These guys are in a tough spot. They were already some ways along in production when they walked out. Some scripts were completed, others were not. The editors are represented by IATSE, and they're still at work, which probably means that a good portion of the shows are in the can. My guess is that the editors are assuming a lot of the storytelling duties to keep the show's production on schedule, and that the production company feels they can move forward and finish out the season without the writing staff. And IATSE has had some sharp elbows for the WGA, because they feel that organizing all reality storytellers (including editors) encroaches on their turf. This infighting between unions can only help management.

The strike has been getting some good coverage - note the AP story (and here's a compendium of press clippings - and solidarity within the industry. The writing staffs of The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill, and The Shield have all joined their counterparts on the picket line, as did all the living past Presidents of the WGA (which is kind of like getting Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore in a room together to agree on something). But they need your help.

The clearinghouse online for the WGA's organizing committee is at Reality United. They have a lot of action items that anybody can get involved in doing. You can join their MySpace site. You can email the executives at America's Next Top Model and the CW supporting the strikers. You can come down to the picket line if you're in the SoCal area.

I believe the labor movement must grow and strengthen for the benefit of working Americans everywhere. This is a high-profile labor fight that can inspire people across the country. It deserves your full support.


Apologies of the Week

So Chuck Roberts personally apologized to Ned Lamont for calling him "the Al Qaeda candidate" last week. His explanation is a teachable moment for the current state of American journalism, however.

Last week, I led into an interview with a guest analyst and really botched the set-up. The guest had wanted to discuss the Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman statements suggesting that terror groups — Al Qaeda type, to use Cheney’s words — would be buoyed by your win, but I posed it badly, stupidly ad-libbing about "some saying Lamont is the Al-Qaeda candidate."

Roberts is basically saying "I was just trying to do my he-said she-said job and strike a false equivalence, but I got carried away." Why is it OK to acknowledge such fringe attacks, that connect a primary victory in Connecticut with how terrorist groups feel about it, in the first place?

This is how journalism supposedly works today. the "journalist" tells his subject the most horrible things the other side says about him, and asks him to respond. How does that help any American? How does that deliver information to an electorate? How is that even interesting? It's simple, lazy reporting that reveals nothing and costs nothing (and that's why it's so prevalent). What we need less of are shows that aim for the "Candidate X called you a douchebag, comment?" format, and we need more shows that take a substantive look at issues that affect our lives. Some in the media moan and wail about name-calling, but the entire cable news format is predicated on it.


After the Sixth War

Well, the cease-fire countdown clock reached zero, and both sides went to their respective corners (except rockets are still being fired by both sides), ending the month-long "Sixth War," as they're calling it in the Arab world.

Was this all worth the cost in human lives and prestige? This war was supposedly started to degrade Hezbollah's capabilities to attack Israel. Did they do that? Larry Johnson doesn't think so:

After 34 days of fighting, Israel is occupying a portion of Southern Lebanon but has failed to accomplish its original objective of "destroying" Hizbullah.

Time to face the facts; Israel has punted and opted instead to settle for "degrading" Hizbullah capabilities. So, how did they do? Well, at the start of the invasion Hizbullah was firing less than a hundred rockets a day into Israel. Yesterday (Sunday) Hizbullah launched 250 rockets into Israel. I suspect Hizbullah was just plain worn out from lugging the rockets from their storage bunker to the launching sites. All of that lifting and shooting can make a terrorist tired. Here's a news flash for the IDF and the Bush Administration--if your adversary can fire more missiles/rockets after 34 days of combat then they did at the start your degradation campaign did not work. It is called "failure".

This didn't stop the President from claiming that Israel won the war, proving that his obliviousness about foreign policy is not limited to Iraq. I don't know how anybody can look at a situation where over 1,100 Lebanese civilians are dead, the entire population of that country is now more supportive of Hezbollah than ever, the Arab world is praising the militants as heroes, and all Israel has to show for it is an 18-mile buffer zone against what is perceived to be a much stronger opponent, and see victory. This is a terrible defeat for Israel in the world community, a puncturing at their invincibility in the region, and a confirmation that their untested leaders did not know what they were doing in dealing with the crisis.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday acknowledged mistakes in the war against Hezbollah as the Israeli government confronted widespread criticism and political recriminations over the conflict.

"There have been failings and shortcomings," Olmert, with deep circles under his eyes and a haggard look on his face, told a special session of the Israeli parliament. "We need to examine ourselves in all aspects and all areas. We will not sweep anything under the table, we will not hide anything. We must ensure that next time things will be done better."

It remains to be seen if Olmert will get a chance at a next time. Bush may be able to bamboozle the American people, because in American politics, admitting or acknowledging any mistakes is regarded by the party in power as treason. But Israelis know how damaging this war was for their continually threatened existence.

There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army's original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented. And after arrogantly and hastily bursting into war, Olmert managed it hesitantly, unfocused and limp. He neglected the home front and abandoned the residents of the north. He also failed shamefully on the diplomatic front.

Author and professor Caleb Carr offered the best summation of the mistakes and problems made by both sides in this utterly avoidable conflict. The mistakes for Israel, of course, are more vital, because the stakes for that nation are so high. And I think Carr has a great historical lesson to offer them:

In 1937, when imperial Japanese aircraft "mistakenly" attacked and sank the U.S. gunboat Panay and several other vessels on China's Yangtze River, some in the U.S. called for war; but FDR realized that the U.S. was in fact neither politically nor militarily ready for such a conflict. And so he (rather unhappily) bided his time, accepting what seemed to his enemies a craven reparations deal and awaiting an event that would allow the overwhelming majority of the American public to appreciate the dangers of Japanese medievalist militarism. The wait also gave the American Navy extra years to prepare.

Similarly, when Roosevelt later tried, after the outbreak of the European war in 1939, to engineer American entrance into the conflict through elaborate trickery centered on luring Nazi subs into attacking U.S. warships in the North Atlantic, he quickly found that, much as the Allies might match his own desire to get the U.S. into the war, his own people were still not ready. And so he did not act, convincing Adolf Hitler of his own degeneracy, as well as that of the people he led.

But Roosevelt was, of course, waiting for a precise set of conditions that would allow him not simply to be the just party in the war but to appear to be as much, at home and abroad. And, of course, by the time the U.S. entered the European and the Pacific wars, there was no doubt about our moral rectitude or our increased military and naval strength.

Lives had been lost, shipping endangered, prestige — personal and otherwise — sullied, but FDR had, by bending with the early blows and waiting for what turned out to be the disaster of Pearl Harbor, pulled off the stroke that would garner the United States, over the course of World War II, so much moral authority that even his less internationally adept successors — from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush — have not been able to drain it; not quite yet, at any rate.

Israel was not tactical, had no strategy for victory or program to accomplish it, and the results were sadly predictable. Maybe that's because, as Seymour Hersh wrote this week, that's because the strings were really being pulled from the White House. And if this debacle was a prelude to a US attack on Iran, as Hersh argues, and if George thinks Israel actually WON, we're all in for it.


What's In The WaPo Water?

The Washington Post editorial page presents two editorials today right out of Mother Jones or The Nation, and it's symptomatic of the backlash by the folks inside the Beltway against this Administration. The first is from, of all people, George Will, who makes about the most obvious point to come out of last week's thwarted terrorist plot, one I've made continually in its wake:

The London plot against civil aviation confirmed a theme of an illuminating new book, Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." The theme is that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

Will takes a shot at the blogosphere at the end, attacking a straw man that believes "terrorist actions are justified by US policies" (believed by almost nobody). But this is a masterful editorial, one that acknowledges that it's not a question of patriotism or anti-Americanism that characterizes the debate over the war on terror, but a question of tactics. And the British action last week is strong evidence that tactically speaking, fighting terror with human intelligence and old-fashioned detective work rather than Cruise missiles and torture is what works.

On the same page of the Post, there's an editorial about George Allen's deplorable comments yesterday in Virginia:

"MY FRIENDS, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas," Sen. George F. Allen told a rally of Republican supporters in Southwest Virginia last week. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something." Whereupon Mr. Allen turned his attention to a young campaign aide working for his Democratic opponent -- a University of Virginia student from Fairfax County who was apparently the only person of color present -- and proceeded to ridicule him.

Let's consider which positive, constructive or inspirational ideas Mr. Allen had in mind when he chose to mock S.R. Sidarth of Dunn Loring, who was recording the event with a video camera on behalf of James Webb, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Mr. Allen holds. The idea that holding up minorities to public scorn in front of an all-white crowd will elicit chortles and guffaws? (It did.) The idea that a candidate for public office can say "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!" to an American of Indian descent and really mean nothing offensive by it? (So insisted Mr. Allen's aides.) Or perhaps the idea that bullying your opponents and calling them strange names -- Mr. Allen twice referred to Mr. Sidarth as "Macaca" -- is within the bounds of decency on the campaign trail?

The editorial is actually generous towards Allen, claiming that "We have no inkling as to what Mr. Allen meant by "Macaca," though we rather doubt his campaign's imaginative explanation that it was somehow an allusion to Mr. Sidarth's hairstyle, a mullet." I thought the same thing, that it was a made-up generic word for a foreigner, until I started to realize that "macaca" is close to "macaque," which is not only French for monkey, but a recognized slur in North Africa, the birthplace of... George Allen's mother! And Allen also speaks French, though don't expect him to use that in his resume. Allen has an unfortunate history of wearing Confederate buttons, displaying a noose over a tree at the Virginia governor's mansion, et al. This slur would be right in line, and he figured nobody in his audience would know what he was talking about, so maybe he could say it with impunity.

But despite this, the Washington Post should be credited for having the sensibility to print the truth without the Republican spin.


Monday, August 14, 2006

Quick Hits

Just to unclog my news item inventory:

• The same key opens 118,000 FEMA trailers in use in the Gulf Coast. What's the real tragedy here, that the same key opens all those doors, or that a year after Hurricane Katrina, 118,000 families are still living in FEMA trailers?

• Gunter Grass, author of "The Tin Drum" and other works, served in the elite Waffen SS in Hitler's Germany as a teenager and waited 60 years to disclose it. He said he came out about it now because "it weighed on me." 60 years later? That's a heavy weight.

Ahmadinejad has an Ahmadine-blog. This after his "60 Minutes" appearance. What a publicity whore. His site didn't really work on my browser. Still, if you read the account at the BBC, it's got to be one of the oddest public displays by an international figure since Kim Jong Il's round of golf.

• Democrats continue to fight hard on national security, and they're being rewarded by a media that sees any aggression as evidence of strength and resolve. Not the best way to judge public policy, but you go to war using the media you have, not the media you'd want, so at least the Democrats are learning the rules of the game. And this is not a bad ad at all.

• More after-the-fact corrections from the Bush Administration. After out-and-out accusing Iran of meddling in Iraq, a top general came out today and said there's no evidence of that. But when has evidence ever stopped these guys?

• And ANOTHER after-the-fact refutation. This Republican-created hysteria over MySpace and "online sexual predators" is contradicted by the fact that online sexual solicitations have decreased measurably over the past five years.

• Old news, but the Republicans still want to dismantle Social Security, and this should absolutely be an election issue. The Democrats are on the right side on this one and they are a united front.

• Mark Schmitt wrote a great piece last week on the media's unrelenting fear of hippies and their need to turn every progressive victory into 1972 redux. My favorite part:

Earlier in the piece, Weisberg makes clear that the Cold Warrior "repudiated" in 1972 was Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. I’m going to make it my special mission to knock this one down as often as I have to: Scoop Jackson wasn’t "repudiated" or robbed of something legitimately his. He just, like dozens of Senatorial would-be-presidents before and since simply Didn’t Get Any Votes. He’s not a martyr, just a guy who No One Voted For. A lot like Joe Lieberman in fact, although Saint Scoop’s performance in 1972 fell short even of Joe’s famous "three-way tie for third place." -- more conventionally known as "fifth place."

Fantastic stuff.


FEAR Unit Strikes Again

The Federal Even-yeared Anti-terror Response (FEAR) Unit has been thrilled with an actual anti-terror response from the UK, so much so that they decided to trot out another terror-related arrest stateside. 3 Palestinian-American men from Texas were picked up over the weekend in Michigan with about 1,000 cell phones in their car. The men claimed they bought the phones for resale, but every single report I read about this arrest claimed that not only were they involved in terrorist activity, but that specifically these three were plotting to blow up the Mackinac Bridge using the cell phones as detonators (why they would need 1,000 detonators as opposed to, um, one, is unclear).

Was it true?


CARO, Mich. - The FBI said Monday it had no information to indicate that the three Texas men arrested in Michigan with about 1,000 cell phones in their van had any direct connection to known terrorist groups [...]

Local authorities didn’t say what they believed the men intended to do with the phones, most of which were prepaid TracFones, but Caro’s police chief noted that cell phones can be untraceable and used as detonators.

The FBI issued a news release Monday saying there is no imminent threat to the bridge linking Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

The release also said the FBI had no information indicating that the men, Palestinian-Americans living in Texas, had any direct links to any known terrorist groups or to the alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic jetliners that was announced in London last week.

Get this, here's why the authorities thought they were about to blow up the Mackinac Bridge:

William Kowalski, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit field office, said authorities believe concern about the bridge was connected to images of the Mackinac Bridge found on a digital camera belonging to the men.

That bridge is a tourist destination. It's 5 miles long and is the world's largest suspension bridge with cable anchorages. It's dead gorgeous. Look.

I'd take a picture of it too if I was there.

But that doesn't matter to the FEAR Unit. You've got three Arabs, a picture of a bridge and a bunch of cell phones. Put them all together and it's... terror stew!!!

It took the FBI all of two days to realize that they screwed up royal on this one. Maybe next time they'll see the value of actionable intelligence as the cornerstone of any counterterrorism effort. But does their retraction really matter? After all, they've already scored a great victory for... FEAR Unit!!!


Journalism Today

So over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times managed to print three editions of its newspaper, with less than 90 days to go until a statewide election, without including one story - ONE - covering the California governor’s race.

And today's sole story was entitled “Angelides and the Charisma Question”, showing that state and local political reporting suffers from the same single-mindedness on personality and horse-race process as its national counterparts.

It is no small task for Angelides to compete in a personality contest with Schwarzenegger, a Hollywood star who has spent three decades polishing the public image that produced his wealth and political power base.

For Angelides, a Sacramento insider who toils over bond sales and pension funds in his job as state treasurer, a lack of pizazz would, in theory, have little bearing on his ability to run the state.

But candidate personalities always matter in a race for governor, and the difficulty of vying one-on-one against Schwarzenegger's is one of the most serious challenges that Angelides faces.

"Voters vote for people, not for platforms," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who often surveys public opinion in California. "At the end of the day, who a candidate is, as a person, is vastly more important than almost anything else."

Hey, thanks, Mark Mellman! Thanks for furthering the most idiotic frame in politics! The one that got George "I'd rather have a beer with him" Bush into the White House twice! It's such a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Pollsters and pundits say people care only about personality. So they write stories that only focus on personality. And then the people, deprived of any substantive analysis of candidate positions on the issues, have nothing on which to base their vote but... personality!

This is ridiculous. The electorate is starving for a real issue-based debate, that's why they continue to migrate online and tune out the horse-race process stories that define all political reporting.

UPDATE: Watch the governor say that he has no plan to bring down the state's deficit. But he's cooler than Angelides, so who cares?


Feingold Democrats

In a few instances this past week, Russ Feingold has shown that he understands the shifting political winds in this country and he has internalized that the best way for a opposition party to conduct itself is to oppose and not capitulate.

You can hear Feingold make this comment:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold knocked the centrist Democratic Leadership Council today, saying its strategy of hoping to win by being “a little different than Republicans” hasn’t worked. He also accused the group's adherents of instilling fear in Democrats who oppose the war.

“They are the ones that coalesced with the big corporations to pass unfair trade agreements that hurt America,” Feingold said. “It was the DLC that came up with the health care plan with the Clintons that was so complicated nobody could understand it. It’s the DLC that has cut off our ability to say things like, ‘Let’s get out of Iraq because it’s a bad idea.’”

Feingold said DLC consultants “instill fear in Democrats” by saying opposition to the war would be taken as not supporting the troops. “What I want is us to get the right answer whether it’s liberal, conservative or middle of the road,” Feingold said.

Democrats should not try to be just “a little different than the Republicans and hope that we win," Feingold said. "I think that’s what (the DLC) brought us and it hasn’t worked.”

And you can see Feingold make this comment on ABC:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lieberman thinks that your approach will strengthen the terrorists and it’s a victory for terrorists. What’s your response?

FEINGOLD: Well, I like Joe Lieberman, but I support Ned Lamont, because Joe is showing with that regrettable statement that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it. The fact is that we were attacked on 9/11 by Al Qaeda and its affiliates and its sympathizers, not by Saddam Hussein. And unfortunately Senator Lieberman has supported the Bush Administration’s disastrous strategic approach of getting us stuck in Iraq instead of focusing on those who attacked us. I mean, look at the places that have been attacked: India, Morocco, Turkey, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Somalia, Spain, Great Britain. What does this have to do with Iraq? And Senator Lieberman is stuck on that point. Ned Lamont and I believe that we should refocus on those who attacked us on 9/11 and not simply try to cover our tracks because this was such a very poor decision in terms of the overall battle against the terrorists who attacked us.

The Republicans will continue to smear and demonize, but Feingold Democrats will win because they simply make sense. The current administration has shown that they cannot lead, and that they've made the wrong decisions in fighting terror and keeping America safe. Feingold Democrats are committed to a sensible foreign policy that actually confronts our enemies and uses all tools under the law to fight terror (the way the British did to disrupt this weeks terror plot).

Meanwhile, the so-called "adults" on national security in the White House are cutting funding for exactly the type of bomb-detecting equipment that would have been used in the terror plot foiled last week. They aren't serious about fighting the war on terror; they're only serious about talking about it.


I See Dead People

I just had a belly laugh watching Chris Matthews mutter "I see dead people" after showing Joe Lieberman's ridiculous campaign commercial promoting his independent run for the Senate. "There's Joe Lieberman, the guy running for Senate who doesn't know he's already lost."

Matthews usually stakes out the ground where he feels the public will be. His willingness to defend the President and marginalize his critics ("just a bunch of whackos") is troubling, but he clearly knows which way the wind blows. What we're seeing is the change in conventional wisdom. Jon Chait is coming around as well. Clearly all these guys are pretty shaken up by what they saw in Connecticut last week. They can't play their usual games and provide their usual frames. The pundits on the right are still interested in slamming and smearing and calling Ned Lamont Al Qaeda's candidate, but the Gang of 500 has seen the evidence on the ground and has begun to change their tune.

A narrative of inevitability is as important as anything for the Democrats in November in terms of how the news coverage will be discussed. Because the national Dems too often take their cues from the media as opposed to the other way around, a favorable media environment emboldens them more than positive reinforcement from their constituents. As Lieberman loses all his friends in the punditocracy and is made to look ridiculous, the media implicitly and explicitly gives more creedence to those voices outside the Beltway. Politics is still a game to these people, a horse race of process over policy, but Democrats can do little but try to work within that system, at least for now. And at this point, they're winning the game.

This bodes extremely well for Ned Lamont in particular, as the tables have completely turned. Lieberman is now the fringe element, the clown, while Lamont is the reasonable and mainstream. What a difference a week makes.

Of course, ultimately Ned will need the cash to defend himself against the sure-to-be relentless attacks to come. But he won't get the giant brush-off from the media, and that's significant.



Well if this isn't a telling moment:

Democrat James Webb's Senate campaign accused Sen. George Allen (R) of making demeaning comments Friday to a 20-year-old Webb volunteer of Indian descent.

S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, had been trailing Allen with a video camera to document his travels and speeches for the Webb campaign. During a campaign speech Friday in Breaks, Virginia, near the Kentucky border, Allen singled out Sidarth and called him a word that sounded like "Macaca."

"This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia, and he's having it on film and its great to have you here and you show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come."

After telling the crowd that Webb was raising money in California with a "bunch of Hollywood movie moguls," Allen again referenced Sidarth, who was born and raised in Fairfax County.

"Lets give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen, who then began talking about the "war on terror."

You can see it here, and that's a key point. YouTube is starting to have an effect on political campaigns for just this reason. Years ago, nobody would see this footage. Instead of a he-said, she-said political controversy, everybody in America can now watch Sen. Allen call a nonwhite person "Macaca" in an obvious slur, with the allusion that if you're not white you don't really belong in the country.

In an interview, Sidarth said he suspects Allen singled him out because he was the only non-white face in the audience, which he estimated included about 100 Republican supporters.

"I think he was doing it because he could and I was the person of color there and it was useful for him in inciting his audience," said Sidarth. "I was annoyed he would use my race in a political context."

This is not the first time Senator Allen has gotten into trouble with issues of race and ethnicity. He is a relic of the Nixonian Southern strategy of race-baiting that has been the undercurrent of every Republican campaign in the South since. It's 2006 and we still have to deal with this crap. Thanks to technology and distributed knowledge, we have the evidence, too.

Support Jim Webb for Senate and say no to race-baiting and identity politics in America.


Quotation Marks Needed

Last week, when the whiners in Joe Lieberman's campaign claimed that Ned Lamont supporters took down their website the day before the election (a site which has only gone back up in the past day or so), every news organization covered it continuously. Now, the Lamont campaign, after noting the facts of the case (that Joe had an el cheapo webhosting service, and his normal election-day traffic spike brought it crashing down), has demanded an apology. No coverage.

This is what progressive bloggers mean when they put the "liberal media" in quotation marks.



Finally someone is willing to say that partisanship is not a dirty word, and that those who whine and moan about the lack of civility and the surfeit of partisanship are often the most partisan people in the world:

What "civility and bipartisanship"? Is it this?

"I'm worried that too many people, both in politics and out, don't appreciate the seriousness of the threat to American security and the evil of the enemy that faces us - more evil or as evil as Nazism and probably more dangerous that the Soviet Communists we fought during the long Cold War," Lieberman said.

"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Because I frankly don't see what is so very fucking "civil" about Lieberman accusing anyone who voted against him of giving aid and comfort to a greater evil than the Nazis and a greater menace than Stalin. And why is it "bipartisan" to borrow GOP talking points and use the British terror plot to smear a Democratic politician who is making an argument shared by most Americans? That's not "bipartisanship." That's arrogant stupidity and a vicious slap in the face.

"Bipartisanship" is the cheap, thin curtain that partisans hide behind so the media won't call them on their most outrageous slurs and attacks. Anyone who comes up to you and says "I hate rabid partisanship on both sides" either:

1- really only hates rabid partisanship on one side, or
2- is so ignorant of what both sides stand for that he/she is incapable of making any kind of decision about how the country should be governed.

How I wish people would stop getting these cases of the vapors and understand that what they call "rabid partisanship" is nothing more than offering a set of clear choices and viewpoints. Not all of them always fit into a liberal or conservative box, and there are often more than two approaches to a problem. But the voices of "bipartisanship" seem like they want to either be told one definitive answer (as if there is one), or they want to use the word "bipartisanship" without accepting its premises, that both sides get a fair hearing and an equal voice. It's nonsensical, and the people who spout it are nonsensical people.


The Big Lie

The Bush Administration must be so used to the ignorance of their constituents that they tried to slide this one under the door. In 2002 this might have worked, and would have been yet another excuse to go forward with whatever nonsense police state tactic the NSA or CIA or JCTC wanted to try. In 2006 some of us know better.

Hear this: the foiled terror plot which originated in Britain involved British law enforcement getting warrants for every piece of surveillance they did for over a year. To the extent that US intelligence was involved (which was not to a great degree), they used the FISA court to obtain warrants for surveillance within this country, the very mechanism Democrats and civil libertarians have asked that the President use instead of the warrantless wiretapping he is undertaking without judicial review. Nothing was done without a warrant, and to the best of everyone's knowledge nobody was tortured, despite the ticking time bomb scenario.

In other words, this plot was foiled due to precisely the methods of legal surveillance that Democrats have argued for since December of last year. Additionally, the terrorist plotters in this case did use regular cell phones and international bank transfers to conduct their business, exactly the programs that the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others have disclosed in news reports. Glenn Greenwald explains:

And yet, here was a major plot foiled because the terrorist plotters were using telephones to communicate about their plans -- and using banking systems to wire money -- all of which law enforcement could track within the law. This whole episode potently illustrates just how inane are the claims that the Times' NSA story (and its SWIFT disclosures) would endanger national security. Terrorists already knew full well that we monitor their telephone conversations and banking transactions, and they knew that before the New York Times "told" them so. But in order to plan terrorist attacks, terrorists must communicate with one another and send money to each other. Somehow, the Times' story did not prevent us from eavesdropping on all of these conversations. That's because the Times stories -- as has been evident from the beginning -- told terrorists nothing which they could use to avoid detection.

The knee-jerk reaction of those in the GOP who don't expect the public to pay attention is that a foiled terror plot=support for illegal activities going on in the White House that supposedly keep people safe. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The British have shown that law enforcement and solid intelligence under the law are the prime ways to stop a terrorist plot. Not military incursions, not torturing suspects, not illegal wiretapping that casts a wide net but focused law enforcement that uses all the tools at its disposal after judicial review.

Meanwhile the US apparently cocked up the whole thing by pushing for immediate arrests rather than waiting the terrorists out to obtain more evidence. The Brits had these guys so closely surveilled they could turn this plot on and off like a switch. They were waiting to draw more people into the net, but the US appears to have had another agenda. A political one.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Countdown to Cease Fire"

There's a "Countdown to Cease-Fire" clock right now on CNN. Like it's New Year's Eve.

Can there be any bigger reminder of the moral bankruptcy and the general unseriousness of the cable news media? "Just 5 hours more of Israeli and Lebanese kids being blown away! Come on back after the break and we'll give you an update!"