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

Friday, January 14, 2005

News from Outside the Bubble quote Harry Shearer, and I fully expect to hear this on Le Show this weekend:

US ignored warning on Iraqi oil smuggling

But a joint investigation by the Financial Times and Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, shows that the single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food programme was conducted with the knowledge of the US government.

“Although the financial beneficiaries were Iraqis and Jordanians, the fact remains that the US government participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam's cronies,” a former UN official said. “That is exactly what many in the US are now accusing other countries of having done. I think it's pretty ironic.”

I'm guessing this won't make US papers for a while. Some might see the UN official quoted and assume this is simply partisan sniping, but later in the article it's confirmed by Paul Volcker, who's heading the oil-for-food investigation, that "Washington allowed violations of the oil sanctions by Jordan in recognition of its national interests."

There's that nasty realpolitik rearing its ugly head again. The right simply sees oil-for-food and screams "Scandal! UN! Hypocrites!" but it's actually not so simple. A lot of people had their hands in the trough, including US multinationals. And the interested parties apparently were informed of the violations, yet did nothing. The ship of state moves slowly, but it shouldn't move THAT slowly.

The whole point of the right's emphasis on this scandal is to knock down the credibility of the UN. If so, it must come with a concurrent knockdown of the credibility of the US and UK governments.



Now that the election is over, the President is ruminating about the efficacy of daring Jihadists to start killing Americans:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush says he regrets sending the wrong impression of the United States by using phrases like "Bring 'em on" and "dead or alive" in his first term and has pledged to be more diplomatic.

In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters to be broadcast on Friday, Bush said some of his past remarks were too blunt.

"'Bring it on,' was a little blunt," the president said in a transcript of the interview released on Thursday.

Did "bring it on" directly lead to the deaths of US soldiers? Not really a quantifiable question. But was it a nice recruiting tool for the insurgency? Probably. Did it help our course in the world? Among moderate Muslims? Uh-uh.

In other news, Stalin said he was sorry about the purges, Pol Pot is "really embarrassed" about butchering 2 million of his citizens, and a group of Veronese rats feel just awful about the Black Death.

(I can hear detractors now saying "You just compared Bush to Stalin and Pol Pot!" Get over it, geniuses; the point's obviously that apologizing after the fact is meaningless.)

By the way, Iraq's now a breeding ground for terrorists, according to the CIA.

Afghanistan II: Electric Boogaloo!


Much Ado About Zippo

I can remember seeing the "Disclaimer: I do some technical work for the Dean campaign" line at the top of the Daily Kos site for nearly six months. In fact, the "breaking story" that the Dean campaign was paying Kos and Jerome Armstrong of MyDD for technical advice was common knowledge as much as a year ago. Somehow, the Wall Street Journal and others have turned this into quelle scandal, perhaps to deflect coverage of the ongoing Armstrong Williams investigation.

Bloggers are more avowedly partisan than journalists. Blogs are more akin to 18th-century pamphlets (would you believe there was never a scandal that Tom Paine was being paid to print his tracts in favor of American independence... oh, wait, he was). In this case, Zephyr Teachout and the Dean campaign sought out Kos and Jerome, both already out as supporters, to (in her words) get them to write about the candidate. As if two Dean supporters wouldn't blog about the candidate during the primary election season. And considering Jerome then quit blogging immediately upon being hired, I'd say that didn't work out too well.

"Technical consultation" I take to mean advice on how to use the netroots to enhance the Dean campaign. Which, according to most people involved (except for Zephyr, who was in a very public fight with Kos prior to this), is exactly what happened.

How this has anything to do with the Department of Education breaking the law by sending taxpayer dollars to a columnist to shill for their policy is beyond me.

There's an ethical discussion about this on Instapundit. I've never been paid to blog (that goes without saying, although I sometimes blog more than I do the job for which I am paid), and if I was, I would disclose it. The naked partisanship of the blogosphere kind of blurs the line about bias, if you ask me. Certainly a report with the patina of nonpartisan news that is eventually revealed as partisan is out of bounds. Like the Administration video news releases on Medicare and ONDCP, for example, or (to some) RatherGate.

I would not sign a blogger code of ethics, however, this is something that should be done on a blogger-by-blogger, case-by-case basis.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Pope Supports a Reduction in the Capital Gains Tax!

Via Josh Marshall, I see that Dick Cheney has used an odd choice of material support for an American domestic agenda:

As a nation we recognize, as Pope John Paul II has written, that a fully human civilization shows respect and love for the elderly. And a just society ensures that elderly people can grow old with dignity. For that reason our nation established the Social Security system. And that is why, after 70 years, Social Security remains a fundamental commitment of both our political parties.

I didn't know the Pope had a position on the Social Security privatization issue. I'll look for the press release coming out of the Vatican. I know that a couple days ago, the Pope did make a statement about a Bush Administration policy. Then again, it was against the policy:

ROME - Pope John Paul II, who opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the Bush administration's policy of preventive war, criticized on Monday the "arrogance of power," which he said should be countered with reason and dialogue.

The pope made his remarks in a televised speech to an annual gathering of diplomats accredited to Vatican City and other dignitaries.

Meanwhile, a retired cardinal and former envoy said President Bush had assured him on the eve of the Iraq invasion that the war would be short.

Cardinal Pio Laghi, speaking during the broadcast on the Vatican's official Telepace service, described a conversation with Bush on March 5, 2003: "When I went to Washington as the pope's envoy just before the outbreak of the war, he told me, 'Don't worry, your eminence. We'll be quick and do well in Iraq.'

"Unfortunately, the facts have demonstrated afterward that things took a different course - not rapid and not favorable. Bush was wrong," Laghi said.

Laghi's comments reflected the pope's often-stated view, which he reiterated Monday. "Recourse to arms and violence has not only led to incalculable material damage, but also fomented hatred and increased the causes of tension," the pope said. "The arrogance of power must be countered with reason, force with dialogue, pointed weapons with outstretched hands, evil with good."

I think the Pope is one of them social conservatives who believes in an internationalist foreign policy and a liberal domestic agenda. In other words, a swing voter.


Learning from Democracy

Don't say that we're not interested in building American-style democracy in Iraq, payola and all:

The electoral group headed by Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, on Monday handed out cash to journalists to ensure coverage of its press conferences in a throwback to Ba'athist-era patronage ahead of parliamentary elections on January 30.

After a meeting held by Mr Allawi's campaign alliance in west Baghdad, reporters, most of whom were from the Arabic-language press, were invited upstairs where each was offered a "gift" of a $100 bill contained in an envelope.

Many of the journalists accepted the cash - about equivalent to half the starting monthly salary for a reporter at an Iraqi newspaper - and one jokingly recalled how Saddam Hussein's regime had also lavished perks on favoured reporters.

Freedom is on the march!

Speaking of homeland payola, the Senate is holding on to the Armstrong Williams fiasco and not letting go:

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of a Senate committee have directed the Education Department to turn over records of its public relations contracts, at the same time reminding the education secretary of a federal ban on "propaganda."

"Given our jurisdiction over the funds involved, we would appreciate your careful review of the contract with Ketchum and the payment made to Mr. Williams," said Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a letter to Education Secretary Rod Paige.

Bipartisan support, ay? I guess some Republicans come down firmly against propaganda.


God Bless Da Ali G

No one knows for sure who he was, that Middle Eastern man in an American flag shirt and a cowboy hat who was supposed to sing the national anthem at a rodeo Friday night in the Salem Civic Center.

But he sure shook up this town before leaving in a hurry.

Introduced as Boraq Sagdiyev from Kazakhstan, he was said to be an immigrant touring America. A film crew was with him, doing some sort of documentary. And he wanted to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to show his appreciation, the announcer told the crowd.

Speaking in broken English, the mysterious man first told the decidedly pro-American crowd - it was a rodeo, of all things, in Salem, of all places - that he supported the war on terrorism.

"I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards," he said, according to Brett Sharp of Star Country WSLC, who was also on stage that night as a media sponsor of the rodeo.

An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd.

"And may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq," he continued, according to Robynn Jaymes, who co-hosts a morning radio show with Sharp and was also among the stunned observers.

Can't wait for the third season.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

2, 4, 6, 8, Who Do We Appreciate? Torturers!

I'm speechless from this legal claim:

Forcing naked Iraqi prisoners to pile themselves in human pyramids was not torture, because American cheerleaders do it every year, a court was told today.

A lawyer defending Specialist Charles Graner, who is accused of being a ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, argued that piling naked prisoners in pyramids was a valid form of prisoner control.

Funny, I've never seen the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders perform their human pyramids naked (at least outside of the pages of Penthouse). Also, the "tie-electrodes-to-their-genitals" cheer is one they don't usually bust out. Not unless it's a close game, at least.

The other part of Graner's lawyer's argument is that their client was following orders from his superiors. I'd stick to that line of reasoning. It has the added bonus of probably being true. I still can't believe the public has swallowed the BS that Abu Ghraib was the work of "a few bad apples," who had access to all of the equipment used in the torturing, like hoods and leashes and attack dogs and electrodes, and who apparently thought very much alike to the other "bad apples" halfway across the world in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Bagram AFB, Afghanistan; etc.


We're not looking for weapons of mass destruction anymore.

Of course, that was four rationales ago.

It's amazing that this isn't a page one story on every newspaper in America. This is a tacit acknowledgement that the original reason for a war that has cost 1,300 Americans and close to 100,000 Iraqis their lives was wrong. Mistake, lie, whatever you want to call it (and plenty would opt for the latter), this was an incalculable error in judgment. The biggest surprise to me is that the GOP didn't try to fake their way through it, showing some exclusive footage of a group of actors playing Marines, in front of a desert backdrop from the Hop-Crosby road movies, with one of our bombs with "United States" crossed out and "Irak" scrawled on it.

Will this failure help to stop future pre-emptive wars, because the media realizes that they were too cowed by Administration pressure to adequately report on the realities of Saddam's WMD capability? I don't know, although it did seem like the Iran ramp-up talk back in December was a big-time nonstarter. But the fact that "NO WMD" isn't in big letters on front pages somewhere today is very dispiriting.

Tell me again why the Republicans are the party of national security, by the way?


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Blog Time Limited I'm sure you understand. But I will give a shout-out to George Clooney, of all people, for actually giving the business back to Bill O'Reilly instead of simply taking it. Falafel Man cast aspersions on a proposed telethon designed to raise money for tsunami victims, saying that "If George Clooney and other stars go on TV and ask you to give, then they had better be involved (making sure the money gets there) all the way down the line."


Clooney wrote back to O'Reilly, saying: “I don’t make as much money as you, Mr. O’Reilly (a fact that’s easy to check), but I’m fascinated by your use of the word CELEBRITY as if you’re not one... you put on make up, you do Leno, The Today Show, go on book tours, and do junkets, so let’s be clear... you are a well paid celebrity. So all right, Mr. Journalist... come on in. I’m booking the talent for the Tsunami event ... and you, Mr. O’Reilly, are now officially invited to be a presenter ... So what do you say, Mr. O’Reilly ... either you ante up and help out AND be that watch dog that you feel we clearly need ... or you simply stand on the sidelines and cast stones, proving that your January 6 TV show was nothing more than a ‘box of lights and wires’ designed to make you wealthy.”

I'm sure O'Reilly will now accuse him of taking the religion out of Christmas.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Take the Pledge

I swear that I have never taken money -- neither directly nor indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called).

...that's Matthew Yglesias' pledge, which every Republican, Democratic, libertarian, communist, and otherwise ideological commentators should take in the wake of the Armstrong Williams debacle.

Um, I'll take it.

Will Novak? Safire? Hannity? Limbaugh?

The plot thickens with this quote from Williams himself:

"This happens all the time," he told me. "There are others." Really? I said. Other conservative commentators accept money from the Bush administration? I asked Williams for names. "I'm not going to defend myself that way," he said. The issue right now, he explained, was his own mistake. Well, I said, what if I call you up in a few weeks, after this blows over, and then ask you? No, he said.

Like I said before, we should simply assume that anyone mouthing Republican talking points is being paid, based on prior evidence.


Fucking Death Squads.

In the ongoing "I Love the 80s" episode that is the United States these days, the Bush Administration is now talking about bringing back another golden oldie: death squads.

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras. There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time.)

I can't believe the equivocating about Negroponte, suggesting that a high-level official in Central America knew nothing about Reagan Administration policy in the region. But the rest of the story sounds about right, and is deeply disturbing, and shows that there is almost nothing left to do in Iraq. The smell of desperation is all over this war, with conservatives either running for cover or grabbing at straws over just what to do. I guess torturing largely innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib didn't work, I guess conventional military operations (albeit 6 months late, in the case of Falljua) didn't work, so how else can we stop the insurgency? I know, through death squads!

I can already hear the other side calling liberals pussies for not wanting to get serious about fighting terrorism, but if you can't see the type of policy the Pentagon is considering as state-sanctioned terror, then there's no debate that can properly be had. We shouldn't judge ourselves by the standard of "well, we're not quite as bad as the terrorists," by the way. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard; otherwise, we'll never be able to prove that our system of government and way of life is preferable to the greater Muslim world at large. In other words, a country whose Attorney General nominee has to say in a confirmation hearing before the Senate that he "is firmly against torture" is a country that has ceded the moral high ground, and instituting death squads won't exactly help getting it back.