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

Friday, March 04, 2005

Heavens open again, Novak corrects HIMSELF

But continues to lie at the end.

On Inside Politics minutes ago, Novak corrected his own statement, that Dean said Social Security payments would have to be reduced by 80% in the future.  He said, rightly, that benefits would be able to be paid out at 80% of current numbers.

But then he said "But Dean still sees that there is a problem, and that's not the party line for the Democrats."


The 80% figure in the future has been exactly the stated party line, based on nonpartisan CBO figures, for as long as I can remember.  Furthermore, what needs to be stated is that 80% of future benefits is MORE in actual dollars that the benefits which are paid out currently.  For some reason, that last part has been dropped from the debate.

So, yes, Novak did a mea culpa, but basically tried to say "I didn't get the numbers right, but my point still stands."  Which, you know, is the douchebaggy way of apologizing, so it is consistent.


US troops mistakely shoot at freed journalist

I wonder if Eason Jordan will be able to come out from hiding now? Story:

ROME - An Italian journalist was wounded Friday when a U.S. armored vehicle mistakenly fired on her car after she was released from her captors in Iraq, the Pentagon said Friday. Media reports said an Italian secret service agent was killed in the shooting, while another was injured.

The Pentagon confirmed that U.S. troops had mistakenly opened fire on a vehicle carrying Giuliana Sgrena, 56, a reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto freed earlier in the day after a month in the custody of Iraqi insurgents, but said it had no details on the incident.

The Apcom and ANSA news agencies said that Sgrena was in a hospital in Iraq with a shoulder injury. The shooting occurred at a roadblock while the car was heading to the airport, the reports said.

The editor of Il Manifesto, Gabriele Polo, said the secret service agent was killed when he threw himself over the freed hostage to protect her from fire, according to Apcom. He also said Sgrena was in the hospital but was not seriously injured.

In an interview with Europe Radio 1, French terrorism expert Frederic Helbert quoted intelligence sources in Baghdad as saying the Italians had wanted to evacuate Sgrena from Iraq as soon as possible and had embarked on the airport road, scene of frequent terrorist attacks, without obtaining the proper clearances or communicating with the U.S. forces.

I'm open to believing this was a mistake. It's a bad mistake to make on the heels of our "charm offensive" in Europe, however. The fact that this journalist wrote for a Communist daily will give the freepers an excellent opportunity to open their mouths and insert their feet, however. "Nice shot" will be the normal repsonse, I gather.

Incidentally, Lindsay Beyerstein at Pandagon has a great post citing specific examples that seem to buttress Eason Jordan's claim, including Gen. Richard Myers admitting the targeting of Iraqi journalists two years ago on CNN, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.


Count Every Vote

My Senator, Barbara Boxer, along with Hillary Clinton and others, have introduced the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 into the Congress. We will now see whether or not, in addition to being against medical support for troops, bankruptcy protection for lower-income families caught by soaring medical bills, prescription drug importation from Canada for seniors, and preserving Social Security as a safety net and anti-poverty measure, Republicans are also against the democratic principle of one person, one vote. Senator Boxer emailed me about this issue:

I have joined Senator Hillary Clinton in introducing the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 (S.450) in the Senate. Our bill would establish a voter-verified paper trail for use by all individuals, including language minority voters, illiterate voters, and voters with disabilities. It would also mandate national standards in a variety of areas, including the registration of voters and the counting of provision ballots. All provisions of this legislation would take effect no later than the November 2006 Federal election.

Not only that, it would make Election Day a federal holiday, which is a long overdue step in the process. This is sane, reasonable legislation that should be bipartisan (if anything can by in this fractious Congress). I wonder how the GOP will try to combat this?


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Napalm in Iraq

I guess we found the chemical weapons in Iraq. They were in our own hands, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry:

Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, an official at Iraq’s health ministry, said that the U.S. military used internationally banned weapons during its deadly offensive in the city of Fallujah.

He said that researches, prepared by his medical team, prove that U.S. occupation forces used internationally prohibited substances, including mustard gas, nerve gas, and other burning chemicals in their attacks in the war-torn city. 

The health official announced his findings at a news conference in the health ministry building in Baghdad.
The press conference was attended by more than 20 Iraqi and foreign media networks, including the Iraqi ash-Sharqiyah TV network, the Iraqi as-Sabah newspaper, the U.S. Washington Post and the Knight-Ridder service.

Funny, the WaPo and Knight-Ridder haven't actually written stories on this yet. Maybe when the Michael Jackson trial's over.

The Health Minister's assessment of Falluja is grim:

“I absolutely do not exclude their use of nuclear and chemical substances, since all forms of nature were wiped out in that city. I can even say that we found dozens, if not hundreds, of stray dogs, cats, and birds that had perished as a result of those gasses.”

During the U.S. offensive, Fallujah residents reported that they saw “melted” bodies in the city, which suggests that U.S. forces used napalm gas, a poisonous cocktail of polystyrene and jet fuel that makes the human body melt.

Napalm is a banned substance, by the way:

The United Nations banned the use of the napalm gas against civilians in 1980 after pictures of a naked wounded girl in Vietnam shocked the world.

The United States, which didn't endorse the convention, is the only nation in the world still using the deadly weapon.

We're setting ablaze the fires of freedom, all right. On human bodies!


I can't believe I'm about to say this, but...

Peggy Noonan is 100% right. OK, not 100% (there's still a slander of the New York Times in there for no apparent reason). But she's right about how network news can revitalize itself. Sadly, it's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Network news is simply not valued as a profit center anymore. Since the networks have been gobbled up by giant conglomerates, profit margin and the bottom line are 2000% more important that delivering quality, factual reporting. Risk is minimized (like the risk that you spend a few million putting a correspondent in Nigeria and they end up having nothing to say), the lowest common denominator is maximized. Noonan's claim that the millions of dollars given to anchors should be re-appropriated to overseas news division is fine, but they're a drop in the bucket. Having a viable, working news division in bureaus across the globe is FAR more expensive that what they give to anchors, and what's more, the anchors get more face time.

I agree that network news is still important and viable (not that I watch it regularly; in fact, I'm not even usually home by the time it starts). But I don't think it's anything more than a legacy project for these conglomerates. Either they've foisted their news divisions off to cable (MSNBC, Fox) or they've put more energy into their primetime strip shows (20/20, 60 Minutes), where they might actually be able to see a decent ratings point. That's my opinion of the mentality out there.

We do need a vigilant, determined, scrappy news network that goes after the big story. But the only ones that exist now are international (CNNI, the BBC).


Recycled Hate Speech

Yesterday I wrote about Nevada congressman Jim Gibbons' speech to a group of supporters which suggested that liberals should be used as human shields in Iraq. Well, thanks to a great Atrios catch, we learn that this dumbass statement was not even his own dumbass statement:

Here we have a 2003 speech by Alabama state auditor Beth Chapman:

I’m here tonight because men and women of the United States military have given their lives for my freedom. I am not here tonight because Sheryl Crowe, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Fonda or Phil Donahue, sacrificed their lives for me...

Tonight, I say we should support the President of the United States and the U.S. military and tell the liberal, tree hugging, hippy, Birkenstock wearing, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and music and whine somewhere else.

After all, if they lived in Iraq, they wouldn’t be allowed the freedom of speech they’re being given here today - - ironically, they would be put to death at the hands of Sadam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden.

I want to know how the very people who are against war because of the loss of life, can possibly be the same people who are for abortion?

They are the same people who are for animal rights but against the rights of the unborn.

The movie stars say they want to go to Iraq and serve as human shields for the Iraqis, I say let them buy a one-way ticket and go.

All of these lines are in Gibbons' speech.

This kind of stuff took Joe Biden out of a Presidential campaign. Will it take Jim Gibbons out of the House? OK, will it get a speechwriter fired or something?

UPDATE: The local press in Gibbons' state has picked up the story. They even called Chapman herself. Gibbons' defense is "it was just something that was emailed to me." So that's how GOP legislators get their speeches? Over the transom? That's hilarious. I guess it's a cost-cutting move to save on a speechwriter staff. I guess his next speech will be about a "new Cialis offer."


Reverse Flypaper

Yet another in the endless series of bombings in Iraq, this one a timed attack on the Interior Ministry, added to the news of the passing of this sad milestone: 1,500 US soldiers now dead. The Interim Prime Minister has extended the state of emergency in the country, and attacks have not abated since the Jan. 31 elections. Insurgents have been successful in recent days of blowing up gas pipelines, including one that links the Kurdish city of Kirkuk to the interior of the country. 125 is now the death count from Monday's car bombing in Hillah, south of Baghdad.

US representatives have acknowledged that we're not going to be able to leave the country for a long time. Security is an issue with us there, one could only imagine what would happen if we left. But this mentality, that we cannot leave Iraq to its own fragile system of policing, begs the question: was this the idea all along? In 2003 Andrew Sullivan and several neocons suggested the "flypaper strategy," offering the notion that our insistence on invading Iraq was an attempt to bring all the terrorists in the region into one place, where we could capture and kill them easier than if they were scattered across the globe. While this always seemed to me a tautological idea (as if there are a finite number of terrorists), one has to now ask whether or not the reverse was true.

Clearly the low-level but persistent nature of the insurgency bogs us down in Iraq in the extended near-term. The focus has at the very least strained, and at worst severely hampered our efforts around the world. Recividism is at an ebbing point, the Marines cannot recruit their target numbers, and we are forcing National Guard troops to maintain their stays overseas far beyond reasonability. Clearly the insurgents knew they could not defeat the US military in a fair fight. Baghdad fell so quickly because, like a toreador faced with a hard-charging bull, the Iraqi fighters fled, leading the military into the country where the battle could be waged on their terms. That has to be acknowledged by all sides. Every single "turning point" battle, like Najaf, Falluja, Ramadi, and more, has been characterized by a "surprisingly easy" takeover of the city. The insurgents are not idiots; they run from a conventional battle, preferring to pester and needle the US forces through IEDs and clandestine mortar attacks.

I'm desperate to see Iraq maintain some semblance of order, as should every American. I'm encouraged by the wealth of political pressure put on Syria to leave Lebanon, and Palestine to engage Israel. I've said in earlier posts that these developments have as much to do with historical events in the region (Arafat's death, Hariri's assassination) as US engagement to spread democracy in the Middle East. We should continue the pressure and extend it to our nominal allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (whose moves toward democratic reforms one hopes are more than lip service). But I'm concerned we've committed ourselves to a perpetual on-the-ground presence from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves, to the detriment of our overall international strategy.

This is a looking-ahead post. Progressives like myself have been committed to the promotion of democracy for decades. Bush's triangulation on the topic is kind of a political masterstroke, pigeonholing Democrats as the party against freedom, but that's only because the Dems have gone along with it (at least most of them). I'm just musing here, but this reverse flypaper (along with the dissolution of the moral high ground typically assigned to the US after Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) is extremely dangerous for our security and our foreign policy, and while we celebrate events on the ground in the region, we have to be mindful of the consequences of our actions, and take steps to rebut them (although I don't know what that could be at this point, the flypaper is really damn sticky after nearly two years).


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

GOP Hate Speech

Conservatives who argue that liberals have gone off the deep end with their hatred make me laugh with their cognitive dissonance. The truth is that Republicans INVENTED the rhetoric of hate speech, usually thinly disguised as humor. Case in point:

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Nevada Democrats are decrying remarks by U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons condemning "tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals" for their opposition to the war in Iraq.

Gibbons, a possible Republican contender for governor in 2006, made the remarks at a Lincoln Day dinner Friday in Elko, according to the Elko Daily Free Press.

While praising the efforts of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gibbons accused liberals, movie stars and song makers of "trying to divide this country."

"I say we tell those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals to go make their movies and their music and whine somewhere else," he said.

He added it was "too damn bad we didn't buy them a ticket" to become human shields in Iraq.

This comes from the party that gets so upset when Howard Dean says something like "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." Well, spare me your shock and outrage. Some are calling for Gibbons' head from these remarks; I'm not. I think they should be publicized, and his constituency should know the extreme nature of his viewpoints, and how he thinks Americans should basically be killed for their viewpoints. But "red meat" rhetoric is a tactic on both sides of the aisle. Howard Dean is giving as good as he gets, and that's what makes conservatives mad, causing them to slink into the familiar cloak of victimhood.

If conservatives want to call for civil discourse in the public arena, then it's time them to muzzle their own with the same fire and determination with which they attempt to muzzle liberals. I'm not holding my breath, because I know that conservatives practically depend on this kind of hate speech. It's a key part of their political strategy. I don't see how anyone should be expected to take the high road and cede the low road, which reaches far more people.

But one thing I won't brook is this assinine culture of victimhood and finger-pointing. Please, it's embarrassing.


Support the Troops My Ass

I personally believe in the fundamental rights of every American, and that support for troops is no more important than support for teachers, doctors, plumbers, and every other man, woman and child in this country. Republicans by their words value support for the troops above all else. Republicans by their actions don't support anyone but their corporate benefactors.

Today the Senate struck down an amendment by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) to exempt service members from bankruptcy restrictions favored in the horrible bankruptcy "reform" bill. This bill, written by credit card companies, seeks to make it near impossible for lower and middle-income Americans to ever get out of debt (through daconian "means-testing" statutes), while instituting a huge loophole for the wealthy, allowing them to hide their cash reserves domestically, in any of five states (AK, DE, NV, RI, UT), through asset protection trusts. As the New York Times writes, "People who want to establish trusts do not have to reside the five states; they need only set their trust up through an institution in one of them." I'm thinking that rule isn't designed for the $8-an-hour crowd.

One-half of all bankruptcies are due to soaring medical costs. All of these things are connected. Tigthening bankruptcy rules force the uninsured or poorly insured to be in debt for the rest of their lives. They'll then be more amenable to risky Social Security schemes to recoup their losses through bankruptcy. This is the "digging a hole" economy. I don't have a problem with personal responsibility in bankruptcy, but this bill does exactly the opposite, shifting responsibility away from the wealthy who simply don't want to pay, while shifting the burden onto those for whom the bankruptcy is beyond their control.

And one significant portion of that group are those in the National Guard, who have to substitute their regular working pay with the pittance received from the government for active duty, who have seen their health care go up and their hazardous duty pay go down, whose life insurance policies are laughably bad, and who now have no recourse should they, by virtue of being stuck in Iraq for years, get behind on their bills.

Significantly, 38 Vermont communities voted for a resolution condemning the Iraq War, and asking that the federal government return its National Guard troops back to the state. Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any state, and has the second highest mobilization rate for its National Guard and reservists. THAT'S support for the troops. Recognizing that the National Guard is being used beyond its original intent, and making a grassroots effort to overturn it. It wasn't so long ago that the GOP was considered the party of state's rights. I guess that was before they got into Washington.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The heavens open: CNN corrects Novakula

I just fell off my chair and through a hole in the Earth's mantle.

Judy Woodruff just apologized for Robert Novak's misquoting Howard Dean about Social Security.

You'll remember that Media Matters reported that Novak first stated on The Capital Gang that Dean, at a speech in Cornell University, "said, yes, Social Security has a big problem, over the years it's going to lose about 80 percent of the benefits."

Of course, Dean said 1) that benefits would be reduced to about 80 percent of the total, which would be a reduction of 20%; 2) he "would not endorse" privatizing of Social Security, adding that "[h]e acknowledged that while there were indeed problems with the program, turning to Wall Street was not the answer."

Novak didn't mention that part.

But Judy Woodruff and CNN just did.  She corrected the record, claiming that Novak misquoted Dean, and that he doesn't agree with the Bush position that Social Security is in crisis.  Then she said "we're happy to make the correction."  Then I puked in my mouth.

But I was happy to see the record corrected officially.  Predictably, Novak didn't do it himself.  He's on Crossfire now, and I'm sure he'll remain silent.

UPDATE: We're still waiting for the RNC to follow suit on the correction. Hold your breath at your own peril.


Snow Falling on Cedars

All together now: the dissolution of the Syrian-backed Lebanese government (the beginnings of the so-called "Cedar Revolution") is a good thing. But it has nothing to do with the Bush Administration's call for freedom around the world. I don't know how the one could possibly presuppose the other. The death of Rafik Hariri, one of the stifled voices for reform in the country, was clearly the catalyst for events on the ground there. The US tried to use Hariri's death to put more international pressure on the Syrians, but none of this would have happened without the efforts and the national unity of the Lebanese themselves. As Ed Kilgore notes, what US government would have reacted to Hariri's death differently? The Clinton State Department listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for years. Trade was almost nil. Not to mention the fact that Syria has cooperated with the Bush Administration in antiterror policies, including being a landing point for terror suspects who underwent "extraordinary rendition."

Here's Ed's key point:

This is the kind of thinking, of course, that has convinced God knows how many people that Ronald Reagan personally won the Cold War. It's the old post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) logical fallacy. This is a president and an administration that chronically refuse to accept responsibility for the bad things that have happened on their watch--even things like the insurgency in Iraq that are directly attributable to its policies. Barring any specific evidence (provided, say, by Lebanese pro-democracy leaders)that Bush had anything in particular to do with Syria's setbacks in Lebanon, I see no particular reason to high-five him for being in office when they happened.

Indeed, if you do want to give Bush credit for this, you have to let him share it with France, who was much earlier to the call for Syria's pullout of Lebanon. France for freedom! Furthermore, if Bush's "bully diplomacy" truly worked, Syria would have been out of Lebanon by now, in fact as soon as troops landed on his border in Iraq. And Hariri would be alive.

I'm sick and tired of conservatives taking credit for everything that happens when a conservative is in the room. An increase in the banana crop in Pango Pango is not due to our strong foreign policy. Things do happen independently of the United States. The sun does not revolve around the Earth. Got it? Good.


Monday, February 28, 2005

Worst Attack Yet In Iraq

106 dead. The election seems to have really crushed the spirity of the insurgents, eh?

One overlooked issue in Iraq concerns Shiite vigilantes targeting former Baath Party members in a series of attacks of retributive violence. We hear a lot about the mainly Sunni insurgents attacking Shiites, but this is the first I've seen noting the other way around, and if that's the case, we'd better get our Johnny Reb and Billy Yank hats out, because we're headed to a Civil War.

What's most disturbing is that nobody's doing a goddamn thing about it:

The fighting between Shiite vigilantes and former Baath Party members, mostly Sunnis, is seldom investigated and largely overshadowed by the insurgency. The U.S. military is preoccupied with hunting down suicide bombers and foreign terrorists, and Iraq's new Shiite leaders have little interest in prosecuting those who kill their former oppressors or their enemies in the insurgency.

The killings have intensified since January's Shiite electoral victory, and U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that they could imperil progress toward a unified, democratic Iraq.

The notion that Shiites would not fight back against the insurgency in an other-than-purple-fingered way is horribly blind to reality. Of course they're going to take up arms. The problem is that this is not fighting the insurgency, it's just picking out ex-Baathists who've wronged Shiites in the past and killing them. This does nothing but escalate the violence, reduces the rule of law to vigilante justice, and

Here's an important chunk of the Knight-Ridder article:

Since the Jan. 30 elections, Shiite militants have stepped up their campaign to exact street justice from men who were part of the regime that oppressed and massacred members of their sect for decades. The assassins are working their way through a hit list of Saddam's former security and intelligence personnel, according to Iraqi authorities, Sunni politicians and interviews with the families of those who've been targeted.

Former Baathists have responded in kind, this month killing several Shiites allied with major political factions.

In a tactic borrowed from Sunni insurgents, Shiite militants have begun distributing printed death threats. One leaflet that lists several former Baathists targeted for assassination says, "We have given you the chance to repent for your crimes against the people of this country, but we have noticed during surveillance that you are instead trying to restore the glory of the atheist, corrupt Baath Party."

By the way, this is not necessarily happening outside of government control, but with the full backing of the government recently brought to power:

The assassination squads are widely believed to be from the Badr Brigade, the armed division of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's most influential Shiite political party and the biggest winner in the elections.

This reminds me of nothing so much as the janjaweed in the Darfur region of the Sudan. If they had an Air Force, the Badr Brigade would be attacking the Sunnis with air strikes.

Forget Tom Friedman's optimism, forget the misguided happy talk coming from the Administration. If Shiites are intent on crushing Sunnis, and insurgents intent on crushing Shiites, then we're already in a civil war, not heading toward one.


Santorum all over my nice suit.

Sen. Rick Santorum (Maniac-VA), who doesn't even have a residence in the state which he "represents," tried to pull a fast one over The Grand Poobah of the Washington press corps Tim Russert yesterday on Meet the Press with regard to Social Security. Santorum (which, as you know, is also the name for a particular type of sexual waste product), sounded positively diplomatic, saying "everything is on the table" 5 times, including raising these shocking, antithetical-to-Republican-ideology possibilities:

1-Adding on private investment accounts to the existing Social Security structure:
2-Admitting that private accounts alone will not solve the Social Security problem (he didn't even bother to use the word crisis):
3-Reduction in benefits through pushing back the retirement age:
4-Raising payroll taxes by raising the caps on which wages can be taxed:

If I didn't know any better, I'd put Santorum into Josh Marshall's "conscience caucus". Problem is, I do know better. Santorum was particularly dishonest when talking about raising caps on the amount of income which is subject to the payroll tax. Here's what he said:

SEN. SANTORUM:  There is no question it's a tax increase, and it's a big tax increase.  It's a 12.4 percent tax increase on top of people at that level who are already paying 35 percent income tax.  And so the combined tax would be about 50 percent.  So, I mean, it's a significant tax increase, but it's...

That's ridiculous. Workers only pay half the payroll tax; their businesses pay the other half. So that brings it to 6.2%. In addition, these workers are ALREADY paying the payroll tax on the first $90,000. So a worker who makes $140,000 will pay an extra $3,000 of tax if the cap is raised, approximately. That's a shade over 2%.

It gets bigger depending on how much the cap is raised, or if it's eliminated, but don't pull that fuzzy math crap. Of course, Russert said nothing. He also (amazingly) did not bring up the issue of College Republicans rallying outside a Santorum town hall meeting in Philadelphia by chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security has got to go." How could you have the man on and not bring that up? Liberal media indeed.

Santorum sounded like a man who got the message from his constituency about what they want out of the Social Security debate. He also sounded like a man running for re-election in 2006, who's seen the early polls showing him losing to Bob Casey Jr., the most popular politician in the state. However, these wishy-washy "everything's on the table" statements don't pass the smell test. As Matthew Yglesias points out, none of these rhetorical concessions mean a damn thing once they get into the House Conference Committee, where everything Democrats propose (should they be dumb enough to negotiate) will be stripped out faster than you can say "Tom DeLay".

Republicans are losing this fight. This is not the time to throw them a bone. This is a time to let them twist in the wind. I'm talking to you, Joe Lieberman.