Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Sunday, April 27, 2003  

Seattle Hawash Rally Planned

An email just arrived announcing a rally in Seattle for Mike Hawash to coincide with the Portland rally on Tuesday at 8:30. Location: Seattle Federal Courthouse, 1010 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle (map here).

Seattle's on board. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles? Still plenty of time....

posted by Jeff | 2:01 PM |

A last appeal for folks to turn out for the Mike Hawash rally on Tuesday morning. Or to organize protests in your own home towns. Unfortunately, I have to work in Southern Oregon for the next week, and won't be able to make the rally. All the more reason for me to hope that there's a big turnout. Lots of people means lots of press. One thing we've learned about this administration is that they don't like press when it's about their anti-democratic ways.

I don't have a laptop, so unless I am able to track down a computer, I won't be blogging until May 6 or so. Keep the keyboards warm for me--I'll see you in a week.

posted by Jeff | 1:41 PM |

Saturday, April 26, 2003  

More lies than WMD

Then there's this, from the Australian Age. Are the old lies starting to bother people confronted by the new raft of dubious statements?

Take the phoney war's great hoax: the dossier that Colin Powell finally presented to the UN in early March as "proof" that Iraq had imported illicit uranium ore from Niger. For months before that, the Bush Administration kept the file close to its chest, citing it constantly, but seldom letting anyone take a closer look.

Now, quietly, quite a few people are paying it a good deal more attention, including a handful of congressional investigators. Far from clearing up the mystery, however, the digging has only deepened it. What investigators have achieved isn't much, having teased just a few tantalising strands of truth from a dark web of deceit - but for laymen, the whodunit is as captivating as a le Carre novel.

Initially attributed only to vague "intelligence sources", the documents appeared to represent hard proof that Saddam Hussein was in flagrant breach of UN sanctions. As Powell explained, they constituted "an irrefutable smoking gun".

Within hours of being made available to the UN, however, they were exposed as fictions - and not very good ones at that. First, there was the quantity of uranium ore said to be involved - 500 tonnes - which would have represented 20 per cent of Niger's total annual output, a quantity so large it stretches credulity to imagine it being siphoned off unnoticed.

posted by Jeff | 8:46 PM |

Spinning Effect by Changing the Cause

A masterful attempt at a Rummy (that is, posing a question to which you supply the answer, thus avoiding a more difficult question to which you have no answer--different from Fleischering):

''People are now trying to suggest that somehow the decision to take military action was entirely conditional on subsequently finding chemical and biological weapons material. That wasn't the case.''
--British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

No, what people are suggesting is that they remember when Colin Powell sat before the UN waving a little vial to demonstrate the silos of anthrax waiting in Iraq to be distributed to minions of Al Qaida. And that he also had such convincing charts and satellite maps that he could actually point to a gray blur and identify the anthrax-containing silo. We remember because it was a couple months ago.

The article continues:

"The international community 'accepted that Saddam had these weapons and they posed a threat,' he said.''

Well, actually no, they didn't. We also recall that they didn't, because that event happened even more recently--just a couple weeks after the vial-waving incident, when the UN, led by France and Russia (oh them!) demanded the US not invade. Remember? It was during that whole time when the White House and Tony Blair were impatiently calling the same folks "irrelevant."

Here's a better question for Mr. Straw: if there were no WMD, what exactly was the reason you sacked Baghdad? Or even: what was that grey smudge Colin Powell was pointing to?

posted by Jeff | 8:37 PM |

Another other view

"These are times when destructive emotions like anger, fear and hatred are giving rise to devastating problems throughout the world. While the daily news offers grim reminders of the destructive power of such emotions, the question we must ask is this: What can we do, person by person, to overcome them?

"Of course such disturbing emotions have always been part of the human condition. Some — those who tend to believe nothing will "cure" our impulses to hate or oppress one another — might say that this is simply the price of being human. But this view can create apathy in the face of destructive emotions, leading us to conclude that destructiveness is beyond our control....

"When I hear bad news, especially the tragic stories I often hear from my fellow Tibetans, naturally my own response is sadness. However, by placing it in context, I find I can cope reasonably well. And feelings of helpless anger, which simply poison the mind and embitter the heart, seldom arise, even following the worst news.

"But reflection shows that in our lives much of our suffering is caused not by external causes but by such internal events as the arising of disturbing emotions. The best antidote to this disruption is enhancing our ability to handle these emotions.

"If humanity is to survive, happiness and inner balance are crucial. Otherwise the lives of our children and their children are more likely to be unhappy, desperate and short. Material development certainly contributes to happiness — to some extent — and a comfortable way of life. But this is not sufficient. To achieve a deeper level of happiness we cannot neglect our inner development.

"The calamity of 9/11 demonstrated that modern technology and human intelligence guided by hatred can lead to immense destruction. Such terrible acts are a violent symptom of an afflicted mental state. To respond wisely and effectively, we need to be guided by more healthy states of mind, not just to avoid feeding the flames of hatred, but to respond skillfully. We would do well to remember that the war against hatred and terror can be waged on this, the internal front, too."

Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, writing in today's NY Times.

There's more there, including his description of work he's done with scientists who measure the effects of meditation on brainwaves. (It's good for you.)

posted by Jeff | 9:19 AM |

Friday, April 25, 2003  

Care for a different view?

"While internally Iraq seems on the edge of chaos, the much-heralded clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds has yet to become apparent."

What much-heralded clash, you say? You thought it was just a few wild-eyed alarmists who spouted that, didn't you? (Incidentally, that link, which is probably broken, is the top blog of the archive beging 3/23.) It's wild-eyed only here in America, where reality comes in a totally different flavor. The editorial continues:

Nevertheless a “Cold War” between much of the Muslim world and the West is certainly in full swing. Winston Churchill who coined the phrase “Iron Curtain” was not the inventor of the “Cold War.” That, “La Guerra Fria”, was the term used by 13th century Spaniards to describe their complicated and uneasy relationship with the Muslims of the Mediterranean.

Fortunately, the article isn't as gloomy as these excerpts sound. Rather, it's a fairly hopeful piece about how the "Muslim world" isn't, and how things will probably play out differently than anyone expects. Of course, it comes to slightly different conclusions than our own neo-con hawks.

Islam, as Christianity before it, is evolving at a rapid pace. St. Thomas Aquinas advocated putting heretics to death and the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin had one outspoken dissident executed. And it is only a generation ago that political observers used to note that the Catholic countries of Southern Europe and Latin America were constitutionally and philosophically unable to take to democracy. But Islam is changing very fast. It is more than beginning to think about democracy.

If the Islamic world is as potentially dangerous as is suggested, then the best long-term counter weapon is not added security in the Western world or war-making but removing the main cause of friction — America’s over dependence on Middle Eastern oil, American soldiers based in the Gulf and the lack of a viable homeland for the Palestinians — together with the vigorous and credible pursuit of human rights, the backbone of freedom for people of every religious persuasion.

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posted by Jeff | 4:39 PM |

Justification for war a lie

This news, via Atrios, is probably ripping at light speed through the blogosphere. Let me jump on the wagon:

"Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABC NEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.

'We were not lying,' said one official. 'But it was just a matter of emphasis.'

"Officials now say they may not find hundreds of tons of mustard and nerve agents and maybe not thousands of liters of anthrax and other toxins. But U.S. forces will find some, they say. On Thursday, President Bush raised the possibility for the first time that any such Iraqi weapons were destroyed before or during the war."
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It was always clear that the Bush administration had a hidden agenda toward Iraq. It had several excuses and depending on its mood, would spin the wheel and choose an answer. None satisfied anyone, which was in itself either satisfying or not. The hawks didn't really need an excuse, so they failed to notice the inconsistencies, lack of evidence, and contradictions in adminstration rationale.

But this isn't a soak-the-poor corporate kickback. The President of the United States stood before his country, and later before the world, and gave his reasons for invading Iraq. He talked of UN relevancy; he questioned the patriotism of those who saw through his lies. And then he waged war on a defenseless country, killing thousands of Iraqis--some hungry conscriptees fearful of retribution if they didn't fight back, some civilians unlucky enough to be caught in the crossfire.

Recall that a few years ago a President was impeached for lying about a blowjob. Now a president has lied about invading a sovereign nation. Is this finally evidence enough to hold him accountable? If not this, then what?

(And if the administration adopts and ends-justifies-the-means approach in war, doesn't it make a lot of sense that it's doing the same at home. With, say, the lives of men like Mike Hawash?)

posted by Jeff | 11:31 AM |

Detentions Update

A number of blogs have posted the news of the Portland rally (thanks!), which seems to be generating more energy there. For those of you who are trying to organized satellite rallies in your own cities, the folks organizing the Portland event have suggestions here. Organizers would especially like a heads up email ASAP if you plan a rally--send the time and date and they'll post it on the official site.

"Our success in publicizing this cause is due in great measure to simple and consistent messages. Rallies of 100 or more people (even 50) in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington would make a tremendous impact on the national debate on this issue. We were able to turn out 150+ people on 48 hours notice here in Portland, you can do it if you want!"

For Portlanders, this is the current word:

What we REALLY NEED over the next three days are people to print copies of the Tuesday Rally posters on the site and get businesses, especially DOWNTOWN Portland businesses, to post them for us. The posters are on the "Rally" page of the website -- in either MS Word or PDF. You can email the PDF files straight to Kinkos and they will print them for you.

A hundred people in New York, Chicago, Cali, and Washington? An organized reader and a good turnout from friends could manage that!

posted by Jeff | 10:01 AM |

Thursday, April 24, 2003  

Protest Illegal Detentions

This may well be a long shot, but what the hay--we'll test the reach of this here blog.

As many of you know, a US citizen named Maher "Mike" Hawash was placed in solitary confinement in Oregon last month. He has been held without charge as a "material witness" (to what is not clear--speculation is that the government wishes to link him to six people arrested for links to Al Qaida). You can read background on the case at a site set up by his friends here.

Portlanders are preparing to rally for Mike on Tuesday, April 29th, at the US courthouse in Portland. This will be the second rally for Mike since the government threw him down the Kafka hole--and it's been good for public scrutiny in the case.

But Mike's not the only detainee, nor is this a local issue. I saw an email today on the Free Mike Hawash listserv, and it gave me an idea. Here's the email:

"I don't know Mike Hawash, but as a fellow American, I'm outraged about what has and is happening to him and his family. I live in the Seattle area and I was wondering if there are any other people in my area that would want to have a protest at the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle next Tuesday. If so, please send me an e-mail. Otherwise, I'll drive the three hours down to Portland next Tuesday. I haven't protested anything since the mid-80s, but I've reached a whole new level of frustration with the current Administration."

Probably you get the idea, too: the more (courthouses), the merrier, right? I'll send this link to some of the other bloggers out there, and possibly we can find some point people to organize some protests in their cities (I live in Portland).

Are you ready to protest for Mike (and the rest of the detainees)?

[Update: Another email just came in. "Does anyone know what actions, if any, are being planned in cities other than Portland? If so, an email providing info about those protests and contact numbers would be helpful for all of us outside the Portland area. I'm in San Francisco and would be interested in helping out if anyone is working on a Tuesday protest here.]

posted by Jeff | 2:04 PM |

Kasky v. Nike (sorry: it's a long one)

When is speech commercial and when is it protected by the first amendment? This is the issue confronting the Supreme Court in the case of Kasky v. Nike. To recap briefly: a California activist, Marc Kasky, sued Nike in 1998 because of statements the company had made about its overseas labor practices. Nike clearly lied: in press releases it claimed that workers were treated well, when in fact, independent sources verified that workers were subjected to inhumane conditions. The twist is that Nike claims it’s not liable for misrepresentations because they didn’t occur in paid advertising (they came from public statements and press releases): as such, they aren’t “commercial speech,” but protected first amendment speech.

Now, before going too deeply into the legal issues, let’s spice the conversation with the political ones, first. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), journalists are lining up on the side of Nike. From an amicus brief filed by New York Times, CBS, CNN, Forbes, The Washington Post, et. Al:

“If the decision below is not reversed, business representatives will be deterred from speaking to the press about …public issues. This chilling effect will deprive the public of access to important news stories and the clash of competing viewpoints that undergirds the First Amendment….

”Extending the definition of commercial speech… to include corporate statements about publicly debated business operations is not only misguided, but it also is unnecessary. … [W]hen a business practice becomes a matter of public concern, the media scrutinize corporate speech and typically place potentially misleading statements into context, thereby providing timely and corrective information.”

Siding with Nike are also the Bush administration and the ACLU (which has got to be a first), multinational corporations (Monsanto, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Microsoft) and the AFL-CIO, manufacturers, advertisers, and PR firms. Those who oppose it are few, and include the Sierra Club, Representatives Kucinich, Brown, Sanders, and Filner, and a few special-interest groups opposed to corporate power.

Legally, the issue seems to depend on a critical previous court ruling: the 1886 Supreme Court case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, in which the court decided that a corporation is a person, and as such, entitled to constitutional protections. (Including, obviously, broad first amendment protections.)

Related to that is the body of law surrounding “commercial speech.” According to the court, there are four conditions (or “prongs,” as the following description calls them) to identifying commercial speech.

“Under the first prong of the test as originally formulated, certain commercial speech is not entitled to protection; the informational function of advertising is the First Amendment concern and if it does not accurately inform the public about lawful activity, it can be suppressed.

“Second, if the speech is protected, the interest of the government in regulating and limiting it must be assessed. The State must assert a substantial interest to be achieved by restrictions on commercial speech.

“Third, the restriction cannot be sustained if it provides only ineffective or remote support for the asserted purpose.
“Instead, the regulation must ‘directly advance’ the governmental interest. The Court resolves this issue with reference to aggregate effects, and does not limit its consideration to effects on the challenging litigant.

“Fourth, if the governmental interest could be served as well by a more limited restriction on commercial speech, the excessive restriction cannot survive. The Court has rejected the idea that a ‘least restrictive means’ test is required. Instead, what is now required is a ‘reasonable fit’ between means and ends, with the means ‘narrowly tailored to achieve the desired objective.’

Law is all in the interpretation, though, and here’s where people fall down on the different sides of this issue. Arguing for Nike, the ACLU made the case clearly and briefly here:

If we accept the logic that speech that furthers the economic interests of a company is always commercial speech aimed at consumers, because the “general public” is by definition made up of “consumers,” then businesses will never be able to speak freely, because anything they say on any subject affecting their business interests will, inevitably, affect whether some consumers will want to do business with them. This is as true for companies that speak out in defense of business practices and policies that we applaud, such as the need for a diverse workforce, as it is for Nike. It was for this reason that the ACLU argued that there is an important difference between speech that is directed primarily to consumers, and speech that is directed at a broader audience that occurs in the context of a public debate on broader issues of public concern.

On the other side of the fence, here’s the argument made by the California DA.

Although the First Amendment and the “free speech” clause of the California Constitution protect commercial speech from unwarranted government regulation, fraud, false, and misleading advertising, and the utterance of falsehood about one’s own conduct have never found constitutional sanctuary….

The Attorney General fully supports the expansive core First Amendment protection afforded to the debate of ideas and opinion in matters of public controversy, including the debate over the benefits and harm resulting from economic globalization. This case, however, is neither about ideas nor opinion. This case is about the constitutional protection to be afforded to product and corporate image promotion and the value to be placed on falsehood as an instrument of that promotion. [The] Plaintiff essentially alleges that Nike disseminated false statements about its own labor practices to include members of the public to buy Nike’s products and to negate public criticism so that consumers would not participate in a boycott against Nike. As discussed below, image advertising is properly viewed as a form of commercial speech entitled to limited First Amendment protection, and the use of deceptive statements of fact about one’s own operations is not entitled to First Amendment or state constitutional protection under any legal theory.

How will it shake out? Well, according to reports of yesterday’s proceedings, the court was “sympathetic” to Nike. Final word in June.

posted by Jeff | 10:59 AM |

Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

The brain is stuck in first gear today, so rather than subject you to a dull wander I'll point you to some fine reading.

So, what will bloggers contribute to the 2004 election cycle? A couple of early entrants here and here. A blogger I read avidly shows that all politics are local: Big Air Fred. Check out his throw-down to the Greens here (in Oregon, the Greens are relevant). Or, if you're in a particularly pugnacious mood, you might read this attack on Krugman and come up with a response.

The always-direct Jake at Lying Media Bastards has some nice analysis here. Talking Points Memo is well--Talking Points Memo. One Man's Opinion both looks good and is good for you.

And during these days in Ashcroft's America, your first stop should be Talk Left. It's not fun to read, but you should do it anyway. Doc's Nebula? Well, you'll just have to sample it for yourself (I suggest yesterday's blogs, as an intro). And then there's World War Three, providing some insight about keepin the peace in Iraq.

I don't know, maybe I just caught a dose of this. Nahhh...

posted by Jeff | 1:56 PM |

Weather Report

Ah, spring! That glorious time when the cherry blossoms fall sodden to the pavement and are ground into paste by the under-caffeinated Portlander, scuttling grimly in the 50-degree weather to his next triple latte.

Of the past 58 days, it has rained 54. We have an expected high of the low- to mid-50s and it is, of course, actively raining. Fortunately, the fourth of July (and the end of the rainy season) is just around the corner. Ah, spring!

posted by Jeff | 10:24 AM |

I've been considering this question of bias and the press for a day now, and ... I got nuthin. Considering all the issues of the public's interest and trusteeship lead me right back to where Dead Flat started out: "the increasing corporatization of networks could cause conflicts of interest leading to omissions and skewed choices in the type of stories that they cover which could lead to type of bias if (and this is a big if) there are no dissenting voices left."

However, I would say that we're in serious danger of losing dissenting voices. Or have already. And even if the media conglomerates who currently control so much of the media in America can said to be offering a choice now, that may change soon. It's really the same old saw that exists in any market--if there aren't regulations, the very competition that leads to a great product eventually leads to a single winner. From a democratic perspective, media is perhaps the most important place for competition--that is, the competition of ideas--to flourish.

And again, thanks to the folks who kept their eye on the ball here.

posted by Jeff | 9:33 AM |

Tuesday, April 22, 2003  

All right, I've been taken to task by some big brains out there on my rather sloppy analysis of this media thing, which is pretty embarrasing on your own blog, but there you have it (at least no one will claim I sanitize the comments).

All of this stemmed, you may recall, when I suggested that if there was media bias, it was generally slanted to the right. To begin with: I stand behind that, to whatever degree such a statement has any meaning. There's no clear continuum of liberal to conservative, and even if we could map such a thing out, there would be no agreement about where the midpoint is. (Which bears out Dead Flat's thesis that all analysis of the phenomenon is anecdotal.) I'd place the midpoint an our hypothetical continuum far further left than almost anyone else, and so it follows that I would characterize most news as conservative.

That's interesting and worth a discussion, but it's obviously opinion.

Then there's this body of law relating to broadcast media, which isn't as subjective. To hang out the embarrasing dirty laundry: I conflated the "fairness doctrine," the "public trustee," and "public interest" language of the Federal Communications Act of 1934. Let's begin, then, with the Communications Act of 1934.

Running some 45 pages in the standard government printed version as originally passed, the act is divided into several dozen numbered sections of a paragraph or more which were originally divided into six parts called titles (a seventh was added in 1984 concerning cable television). The first title provides general provisions on the FCC, the second is devoted to common carrier regulation, the third deals with broadcasting (and is of primary concern here), the fourth with administrative and procedural matters, the fifth with penal provisions and forfeitures (fines), and the sixth with miscellaneous matters.

The act has been updated through amendment many times--chiefly with creation of public television in 1967 (provisions on the operation and funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting expanded title III), and the cable act of 1984 (which created a new title VI devoted to cable regulation, sections of which were expanded in cable legislation of 1992).

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Part of this law, which remains the founding law of broadcasting, is the concept that broadcasters are "public trustees."

"The obligation to serve the public interest is integral to the "trusteeship" model of broadcasting--the philosophical foundation upon which broadcasters are expected to operate. The trusteeship paradigm is used to justify government regulation of broadcasting. It maintains that the electromagnetic spectrum is a limited resource belonging to the public, and only those most capable of serving the public interest are entrusted with a broadcast license. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the government body responsible for determining whether or not applicants for broadcast license meet the requirements to obtain them and for further regulation of those to whom licenses have been granted."

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From this came the notion that the trustee should be expected to serve the public interest.

Interpretation of the "public interest, convenience and necessity" clause has been a continuing source of controversy. Initially, the Federal Radio Commission implemented a set of tests, criteria which would loosely define whether or not the broadcasting entity was fulfilling its obligation to the listening public. Secifications included program diversity, quality reception, and "character" evaluation of licensees. These initial demands set a precedent for future explications of the public interest. (Same source as above.)

Among those explications were the 'fairness doctrine."

In 1949, the FCC established the Fairness Doctrine as a policy which guaranteed (among other things) the presentation of both sides of a controversial issue. This concept is rooted in the early broadcast regulation of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC). Congress declared it part of the Communications Act in 1959 to safeguard the public interest and First Amendment freedoms. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in the case of Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC (1969). Although the Fairness Doctrine was enacted to promote pluralism, eventually it produced an opposite effect. Concerned that advertising time would be squandered by those who invoked the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters challenged its constitutionality claiming that it promoted censorship instead of diversity. Declared in violation of the First Amendment, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, and attempts to provide constitutional protection for the doctrine were vetoed by President Reagan in 1987. (Again, same source.)

But while the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned as law, the regulations surround the concept that broadcasters are public trustees weren't--until recently, under the push of deregulation.

Specific deregulatory moves--some by Congress, others by the FCC--included (a) extending television licenses to five years from three in 1981; (b) expanding the number of television stations any single entity could own grew from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985 (a situation under consideration for further change in 1995); (c) abolishing guidelines for minimal amounts of non-entertainment programming in 1985; (d) elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987; (e) dropping, in 1985, FCC license guidelines for how much advertising could be carried; (f) leaving technical standards increasingly in the hands of licensees rather than FCC mandates; and (g) deregulation of television's competition (especially cable which went through several regulatory changes in the decade after 1983).

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Following this thread, we come back to a slightly different question, which is: what is the public interest and how is it best served? This is perhaps a better framing question (it is for me, certainly). As this blog is running long, and I'm running short on time, I'll pick up those questions later today.

posted by Jeff | 12:11 PM |

Monday, April 21, 2003  

Via Thousand Yard Glare, a story on the Family. (See NotA: 2/28/03, 3/3/03, and 3/4/03.)

"WASHINGTON - Six members of Congress live in a $1.1 million Capitol Hill town house that is subsidized by a secretive religious organization, tax records show.

"The lawmakers, all Christians, pay low rent to live in the stately red brick, three-story house on C Street, two blocks from the Capitol. It is maintained by a group alternately known as the "Fellowship" and the "Foundation" and brings together world leaders and elected officials through religion....

"The six lawmakers — Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev. and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. — live in private rooms upstairs."

Interestingly, the article is fairly critical of the group (undermining my post of an hour ago).

"Few in the Fellowship are willing to talk about its mission.

"It organizes the annual National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, members of Congress and dignitaries from around the world. The group leaves its name off the program, even though it spent $924,373 to host the event in 2001, bringing in $606,292 in proceeds, according to the most recent available IRS records, and pays travel expenses for foreign officials to attend....

"'My living arrangements are totally appropriate and within the House rules,' said Doyle. 'There's no direct correlation between the tenants and the Foundation — there are tenants who have absolutely zero involvement, and some do. And there's no benefit to live there, other than the fact that it's convenient....'

That secrecy is unsettling to the Rev. Barry Lynn, a United Church of Christ minister who heads watchdog group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

'"What concerns people is when you mix religion, political power, and secrecy,' Lynn said. 'Members of official Washington should always be open and direct about the groups they choose to join, just to dispel any concerns that there's an inappropriate or unconscious agenda in these groups.'"

posted by Jeff | 6:14 PM |

Lots of traffic today from our good friend Tom over at Just One Minute, who, I notice, is also referenced in Atrios. All of it circulating around the idea of bias. Meme of the moment?

(Fortunately, there's no bias here).

posted by Jeff | 5:44 PM |

Media Paranoia redux

I started a response to Dead Flat in the comments, but it was going on at blog-length, so voila!--here it is.

The maximizing-the-audience argument makes sense theoretically, but in fact, news isn't subject to the pure economics of supply and demand (at least not in television). The reason is that news has historically had a special place in radio and television. This arose from agreements between media companies and the goverment; in serving the public good--providing objective news--companies are able to use the public airwaves. So the news segment has always been small. Under the old terms of the agreement, the way you got a bigger audience was as you describe--better news.

But then came the slow process of deregulation that pretty much removed this protection. The result is news that does pander to the largest audience--and the result is Condititis (relatively benign) and Fox News. On the first issue, there have been studies that show a skew in the news toward the sensational (Columbia Journalism Review, FAIR). And increasingly, there's evidence that the news is biased toward the left (also here). Furthermore, there's a lot of evidence on the effect of corporate ownership and the way corporations themselves are covered, which is hardly unbiased. (Cycle: corporations contribute cash to politicians who pass laws favorable to corporations; corporations own media who report favorably on these laws but do not offer a negative view; the same politicians pass laws that remove public oversight and regulations about content, and then allow media giants to consolidate. All of this is enormously biaseand there's plenty of evidence to show the pattern.)

There's a subtle feedback loop as well (here I'll have to appeal to Dead Flat's sense of the logical, because I can't cite a study). Because the media's not legally beholden to objectivity or serving the public good, it has no balancing effect. If the President says Saddam was directly involved in bombing the World Trade Center, there's no real reason for the media to provide a critical rebuttal. Thus the President creates the news (and it's not surprising that the only country on earth whose citizens are convinced by this argument are America's). GE owns the company--well, it will probably be hard to print that article critical of GE's anti-environment policies, so better to write about, well, here's a nice story about J. Lo. Or, put another way, that the media has no motivation to be critical of the government or corporations means it's not, particularly. That's a bias I worry about the most.

posted by Jeff | 5:28 PM |

Posting a bit meager lately. I'll try to get something up this evening.

posted by Jeff | 11:17 AM |

Friday, April 18, 2003  

Because I'm overly excitable and generally reactionary, some of you have criticized me for my seemingly Art Bell-like theories. Point taken. But a comment on the story below. Not to put too fine a point on it--well, actually, to put a very fine point on it: the rich people who own media conglomerates and helm massive multinationals and run the US government--they're all the same people. It's not a conspiracy theory to notice that when Republicans push for a proposal and then their friends--who are their neighbors, their golfing buddies, and their campaign donors--at MSNBC or Fox or Time/Warner beam it into your television, there's something a little fishy.

I continued on there for another several sentences in the same vein, becoming increasingly wild with my adverbs. I felt it was underming the point, so I'll stop here--you know the lyrics, anyway.

posted by Jeff | 6:51 PM |

The Myth of the Liberal Media (again)

Despite Bernie Goldberg's whimpers, every time someone actually applies a methodology to the question of media bias, the only thing they find is a bias to the right. Another brick in that wall today from NPR, who announced the results of a poll on taxes. The findings are revealing. Respondents generally feel that maintaining current spending is more important that giving the richies a tax cut (my language, not NPR's). Not surprising. But then there's this:

"The survey asked about two specific tax-cut proposals -- the elimination of the tax on dividends, and the elimination of the estate tax.... On the estate tax, it was a different story: although 28 percent of Americans said they did not know enough about the subject to have an opinion on it, a solid majority (57 percent) supported eliminating the estate tax -- only 15 percent were opposed."

This is, of course, the estate tax about which conservatives have made much stink. It's worth listening to the story if you missed it, because when NPR interviewed some of the respondents, they recited back story and verse about why this tax is unjust: double taxation, excuse for the government to seize entire estates, unfairly targets small businesses and farms.

Some quotes from the story (errors in transcription my own):

Man One: "I know this gentleman, he's worked his life doing what he does and does it very well. I know his kids. And he told me once, they would have to sell 90% of what he's invested in in order to pay his taxes. So it's just not fair."

Man Two: "Oftentimes they have to sell the business or the farm to pay the federal taxes, which means they've lost that business forever. That business no longer exists in their family because the government's taxed them so heavily."

Of course, none of this is true. When the same people were polled about the actual law--farms worth $4 million or less are subject to no taxes--not just it's name, respondents reversed themselves. (NPR also explains that most estates are built through wealth from capital gains, which, thanks to the current tax giveaways--err, cuts--aren't taxed at all: no double taxation there.)

Man Two, revising his opinion: "Someone like Bill Gates, if you knock him for ten percent or something to that effect, it's not going to hurt him, it's not going to hurt anyone else involved. Maybe that's a little different. Maybe I'm just stepping off of my platform on that one. And it's not just Bill Gates--I think [anyone with] extreme, extreme, extreme wealth."

(Extreme, extreme, extreme wealth? You mean like, ah, campaign donors?)

So, how is it that a majority of people all misunderstand a law and misunderstand it exactly the same way? Because they consume news that reports these "facts." News that comes from--repeat it with Aunt Emma now--the predominantly conservative corporate media.

posted by Jeff | 6:28 PM |

Thursday, April 17, 2003  

Filibustering Priscilla Owens

I don't think I've ever quoted an entire article, but there's a first for everything: it's spot on. (At some point in the near future, it'll cost three bucks to read it. But not if I post it here.) This is from today's Times.

Senators opposing Priscilla Owen, a nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, are considering a filibuster to head off her confirmation vote. Filibusters are an extreme measure in which a minority of senators block an issue from being voted on. But the system for picking judges, which should be a relatively nonpartisan effort to seat jurists who reflect broad American values, has broken down. Filibustering Judge Owen's confirmation would send the Bush administration two important messages: the president must stop packing the courts with ideologues, and he must show more respect for the Senate's role.

At Judge Owen's confirmation hearings, it was abundantly clear that she is far to the right of most Americans and that her ideology drives her decisions. On the Texas Supreme Court, she argued in one case that a minor seeking an abortion could be required to prove that she was aware of the religious objections to abortion. Judge Owen has also consistently ruled against workers, accident victims and victims of discrimination.

It is not by chance that the Senate is being asked to confirm someone with these views. The White House has culled the legal profession to find nominees with aggressive conservative agendas. It is asking senators to approve, along with Judge Owen, Carolyn Kuhl, who was a strong supporter of maintaining the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which discriminated against blacks; Jeffrey Sutton, a lawyer who has severely set back the rights of the disabled; and James Leon Holmes, who has compared abortion to the Holocaust.

Judge Owen was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, but the administration renominated her when Republicans took control. Ignoring the committee's decision is only one in a growing list of ways the White House and its allies have politicized judicial selection. The latest, and most disturbing, move came when former President George Bush held a fund-raiser for a group that will run ads attacking senators who do not fall into lock step behind the administration's nominees.

Many senators have stood up to the administration's assault on an independent judiciary, but others have been too silent. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who represents California, one of the nation's most diverse states, should be a stronger voice against nominees like Judge Owen and Judge Kuhl, who have shown disregard for victims of discrimination. Senator Arlen Specter, who comes from Pennsylvania, a state with a proud labor tradition, should be speaking out against nominees like Judge Owen and Deborah Cook, who reflexively favor corporations over the little guy.

The filibuster is not a tool to be used lightly. But the Senate has been right to use it against the nomination of Miguel Estrada, who is hiding his views on legal issues. It should do the same to stop the once-rejected Judge Owen, and tell extreme conservatives in the Bush administration to stop trying to hijack the federal judiciary.

["Filibustering Priscilla Owens," NYT Editorial, 4/17/03]

posted by Jeff | 3:30 PM |

And then there's this: a somewhat biting indictment of the average American. No, it didn't come from the Times.

"But where is Saddam Hussein now? Nobody — not the Bush administration, not the Western media, not the American people themselves — appear to give much of a damn. Less than a week after the fall of Baghdad, Saddam is already largely forgotten. Bush has stopped mentioning him, as he stopped mentioning Osama....

"News has a notoriously short shelf-life in the US, where the media often appear — to the rest of the world at least — to work on the understanding that the average American viewer has a concentration span only marginally longer than that of a goldfish.

"Considering that the progressive talents of the American people ushered in the IT age, it is extraordinary that they process information so lethargically and naively, falling victim to every misinformation campaign their government concocts."

| Link |

posted by Jeff | 3:25 PM |

I fully expect the US to turn up chemical or biological weapons in Iraq (owing exclusively to my distrust of Saddam Hussein, and not any cofidence in US intelligence). But here's a question: if they aren't found, would the UN be right in pushing for sanctions against the US? What about war crimes for the deaths of Iraqi civilians--should that be on the table?

posted by Jeff | 10:14 AM |

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  

Pax (Latin) Americana
FDR is to David O. Selznick as George W. Bush is to _____?

The White House is absolutely spectacular at filling the seats. They promise amazing spectacle. Tax cuts: great for a bull market, even better for a bear market. Invasion of Iraq: regime change, freedom for Iraqis, abated risk from WMD and terrorism, and peace and democracy in the Middle East. Man, that’s a helluva trailer. Trouble is, the movie stinks. We were promised adoring crowds—we got the finger. We were promised cooperation and order—we got looting and revenge. Not that anyone expected it to go smoothly (well, no one outside the administration, anyway)—but man, is this ever a half-assed exercise, or what?

(The answer, for those playing at home, is of course Jerry Bruckheimer.)

So now that we’ve entered the “rebuilding” phase, we’ll be hearing a lot of platitudes. The message isn’t complete yet—the White House is still doing some audience testing. (Responding to concerns about the UN, the White House carefully crafted the “vital role” message, to much fanfare.) Rest assured, though: it will have the broad assurances and splashy bromides characteristic of a Bush trailer. None of which will be the actual goal—it’s just the sales pitch. Once he’s got the populace dewy-eyed and flag-draped, he’ll get down to the real task at hand.

And what is the task at hand? My guess: the Latin-Americanization of the Middle East.

There’s a reason Iraq was such a great country to invade—it’s unrulable, at least in the short term. Weighted down by hundreds of billions in foreign debt and confronting the burning rage of a divided population, Iraq is spoiling for years or decades of instability. From the US’s point of view, this means opportunity. It can support whatever government emerges, and in a pattern well-established in Latin America, slowly bind the country to the US through a kind of free-market colonialism.

This process is described by William Finnegan in the May Harper’s. He uses Bolivia as the example.

”Like many poor countries, Bolivia was subjected to what is blandly known as structural adjustment—a set of standardized, far-reaching austerity and ‘openness’ measures that typically include the removal of restrictions on foreign investment, the abolition of public subsidies and labor rights, reduced state spending, deregulation, lower tariffs, tighter credit, the encouragement of export-oriented industries, lower marginal tax rates, currency devaluation, and the sale of major public enterprises. In Bolivia’s case, the latter included the national railways, the national airlines, the telephone system, the country’s vast tin mines, and a long list of municipal utilities…. The country’s small, white, wealthy political class seemed to have come to a quiet understanding with the international bankers. The power of the workers and peasants, once organized and formidable, was clearly broken; all of the major parties were now business aligned. And so the parties began to trade the presidency around every election cycle, and their leaders found that they could collaborate profitably with the international corporations that came to run the phone company or pump the oil and gas.”

The process above, instituted through the IMF and World Bank, will play out very nearly the same, although likely under different auspices (the foreign debt-holders, say). Iraq’s weakness makes it ideal for puppet (though democratically-elected) leadership. That it has oil wells and an impressive infrastructure make it desirable to foreign corporations who will naturally take control, as in Bolivia’s case.

Ironically, this process would be far more difficult in a country less disposed to democratic rule. Other attempts to control non-democratic countries in the Middle East are well-documented failures (US dealings with Saddam Hussein a spectacular example). It is only under the guise of independent rule that the US has any hope of establishing control in the region, and it is only with a divided, weakened country like Iraq that there is hope for a controllable, Latin-America style democracy.

The process feeds on division. While foolish anti-war types like me were busy howling that this war would destablize the region, Rumsfeld was nodding sagely: that's the only way this model can spread. In countries like Iran, where the population is generally homogenous, the Bushies need to stir up a little trouble. As a new regime establishes itself in Iraq, there will inevitably be charges that it's a US puppet. The fall-out will lead to divided populations. The evidence that the US is after destablization abounds (and I don't know how I missed it): the war's not even over, and the US threatens Syria? An ally?

And so the US fiddles while Iraqis loot. Even the most nonpolitical Americans have a gut sense that this probably isn’t so hot for a healthy democracy in the long run. They wonder why the US didn’t foresee or try to prevent it. We’re left to conclude that a healthy democracy isn’t what the President’s after. He’s after an unhealthy one. And for that, looting and revenge are just what the free-market colonialist ordered.

posted by Jeff | 10:59 AM |

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  

Not a lot of time for blogging today, but there is some news I feel compelled to note.

Mideast war, anyone? First, news that Iraq is devolving into bloody turf wars (more quickly even than I expected). Next, Arab nations voice concern at the US's Syrian saber-rattling. And last, as if there were any confusion, the US stood alone today in voting against four UN resolutions condemning Israel.

GENEVA - The United Nations Human Rights Commission on Tuesday overwhelmingly condemned Israel for "mass killing" of Palestinians, and for its settlement policy in the Palestinian territories.

The United States was alone in voting against all four resolutions, saying that the criticism of Israel was one-sided and unfair.

| link |

All of this seems to confirm anti-war suspicions that the US would have no real stomach for rebuilding Iraq and that a war would hasten anti-American hatred. The bungling of the war and post-war chaos is bad enough, but the administration seems hell-bent on pissing off as many people as it can. My theory is that the administration is so deep with yes-men that it never departs from its own propoganda. The rest of the world, of course, has become deeply sensitized to each message the White House sends. Thus when Franklin Graham--who called Islam an "evil religion"--was invited to speak at the Pentagon on Palm Sunday, the Muslim world got the message. Thus when the US stands alone in defence of Israel--while simultaneously threatening Syria for much smaller violations--the world gets the message.

Yesterday on the Newshour, professor As'ad AbuKhalil really gave voice to these messages.

But the question we should raise is this: Does the United States think that it can really take a case to the international community on the basis of some illegal flyers and night vision goggles that they found across the border? Does this amount to a case they can convince the world?

In addition to that, they have to understand the credibility of the United States' allegation on Iraq even after the war, do not stand. Where are these al-Qaida members and leaders that we had heard so much about that were sheltered in Baghdad? Will they be turned over?

We will see a new fanatical movement -- just as the 1991 war produced bin Laden -- I brace myself and wonder what kind of a new fanatical fundamentalist movement we'll have on our hands, and when something nasty and sinister occurs a year or two from now, Americans will innocently wonder, "why do they hate us?"

And while we're talking US credibility, what about the North Korea situation? The US is cockily trumpeting the success their "policy" produced: provoking North Korea to request multilateral rather than face-to-face discussions. And they confidently talk of winning a war with North Korea. The truth is, Kim Jong Il has made a fool of the US and will continue to do so. The US--and more importantly, South Korea--can't afford a war with NK. There would literally be hundreds of thousands of casualties. If the Iraq invasion proved anything, it's that the US cannot afford a real war. Support for an imperial policy just isn't there.

Unfortunately, Kim Jong Il may not play nice. While the White House bungles (and bungles and bungles) what will North Korea do? Does the White House really wish to call North Korea out? On this issue, Frontline did a nice piece last week. The website has additional info, if you want to really freak yourself out.

All right, enough.

posted by Jeff | 4:01 PM |

The US: Corporate Oligarchy

It's not so much that we live in a false democracy--it's a pretty well-established fact that money dictates politics in the US--but that no one seems to mind anymore. Thus we have yet another report about Republican payoffs to corporations: NPR reported today that the chemical and chemical-using industry shot down legislation that would mandate security precautions for dangerous chemicals. The legislation was part of the anti-terror protections congress is trying to pass into law.

What's amazing is that the legislation was passed unanimously in session, 18-0. It was only later, after the chem industry started playing marionette, that the bill was shot down. According to NPR (who I believe got the info here), of the six Republican senators who shot down the legislation, five were the top five recipients of money from--you guessed it--the chemical lobby. That lobby includes reps from the petroleum industry. And so it will come as no surprise that the President also opposed the legislation. Protect the people--as long as it doesn't cost the men behind the curtain anything.

posted by Jeff | 12:56 PM |

Blogspot note

Things are mighty weird here at old Blogspot, so I'll ask you to bear with me. As some of you have noticed, my archiving has gone wrong. That's not the half of it. Now, when I go into the template editing area, it shows some ancient (and innacurate) version. Shamed by Tom Tomorrow, I tried to make the site slightly less cookie-cutter by changing the colors, which is about the limit of my meager coding skills, and so now I'm not risking fiddling with that old template. The long and short of which is that I'm unable to add new links or fix the archiving. Thus the evanescence of this particular blog just got more so. Apologies all around.

(Not, of course, that it'll encourage me to actually pay for the service, inveterate cheapskate that I am--gotta save that beer money.)

posted by Jeff | 8:49 AM |

Monday, April 14, 2003  

President Bush, Saturday

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Syria just needs to cooperate with us. We've made -- I made that clear on Friday. I will, if need be, reiterate it today. The Syrian government needs to cooperate with the United States and our coalition partners and not harbor any Baathists, any military officials, any people who need to be held to account for their tenure during what we are learning more and more about. It was one of the most horrendous governments ever.

Q Could they face military action if they don't cooperate?

THE PRESIDENT: They just need to cooperate.

Colin Powell, Yesterday

"In light of this new environment they [Syria] should review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction but especially the support of terrorist activity. With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward."

Donald Rumsfeld, Yesterday

"We have seen the chemical weapons tests in Syria over the past 12, 15 months. [W]e have intelligence that shows that Syria has allowed Syrians and others to come across the border into Iraq, people armed and people carrying leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition. And we have intelligence that indicates that some Iraqi people have been allowed into Syria, in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit. [On Syrian shipments of arms to Iraq.] We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

Ari Fleischer, Today

"Well, it is time for Syria to understand. This is a day of emerging liberation for the people of Iraq and it's important for President Assad of Syria -- who is a new leader, a young man -- to understand that the future needs to be different from the past, and that the Iraqi people deserve no less, the region deserves no less.

"Syria is a nation that has long been on the list of terrorist nations. They should not do that. They should not be that way. No nation should be. And that's a message the United States will not be shy about saying to Syria or other nations."

And more creepily, this exchange:

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that what's next is Syria needs to seriously ponder the implications of their actions in terms of harboring Iraqis who need not and should not be harbored. They should think seriously about their program to develop and to have chemical weapons. I think it's time for them to think through where they want their place to be in the world.

Q Why shouldn't people take that as a threat?

After that, Fleischer didn't answer the question, but went to another reporter.

Although the usual pundits have expressed surprise at these threats (which is exactly what they are), I doubt seriously if anything can dissuade the administration from invading Syria if it wishes to. What's particularly alarming to me is that so few "average" Americans seem to care. Let's leave aside the issue of war and peace--why isn't there outrage at these new threats? The war with Iraq isn't even over, and at the moment, the lack of WMDs has made liars of the administration. Now vague concern about a country no one from the administration has heretofore mention hasn't aroused more than a yawn across the country? I sputter in confusion...

posted by Jeff | 5:51 PM |

Here's what I'm talking about, Jack Bogdanksi, offering up the goods: Dick and George's 2002 income tax returns.

Go give him some sugar.

posted by Jeff | 2:48 PM |

More news of US post-war blundering: in one suburb called Saddam City, the Marines have handed over local policing to Shi'ite clerics. NPR was reporting earlier that the Marines felt this was a great solution--no more worries for them. This is bizarre, because deputizing long-oppressed, angry factions is exactly what the world doesn't want to see in Iraq.

"In Saddam City, a young cleric ominously hinted Monday that handing back authority over the densely populated neighborhood to a central government may be less than certain....

"Everything in Saddam City suggests power is firmly in the hands of the clerics and that the area's mosques are functioning as the centers of power. There also are many telltale signs that a central, albeit concealed, power is in existence."

The US doesn't wish the UN to be involved in post-war Iraq, and seems to have no plan itself. We've already witnessed a number of disasters that emerged from US inaction and ignorance, and now the US has taken action to worsen the problem.

The dead are still laying in the streets of Tikrit as this happens, but in Washington all we hear is talk of invading Syria. Am I mistaken, or has the White House gone mad?

posted by Jeff | 2:38 PM |

Sunday, April 13, 2003  

The Alchemy of the Blog

As I understand it, blogs have been around now for a number of years. They reached enough of a critical mass some time last year to emerge as source material for national media. And thanks to the war, with national reporters blogging in Baghdad, all of as sudden, they hit the big time.

But what are "they?" Essentially, blogs are just personal websites (though blogging interfaces have made them available even to people with no website-hosting experience). As such, their character is individual. Whether they're news filters, commentary, or a combination, they reflect the single mind and interests of one person.

Where blogs emerge as a medium is when they're read collectively. Together, they create a kind of neural net of information and opinion. Here their weaknesses become the medium's strength. That blogs are slight and erratically-published means a reader can visit several in a short space of time. That they're personal and uncommercial means that often they offer a distinct point of view. Taken collectively, they offer a real alternative to news. Each reader selects a group of blogs that forms a personal neural net. Generally this will include some of the bigger blogs like Atrios, Altercation, Tom Tomorrow, and Talking Points Memo, along with several of the lesser-read blogs, like this one. What results is a brain that is fairly likely to get the really fascinating alternative news (like the astroturf campaigns or the Saddam statue incident) as well as unique commentary you won't find on the major news sources.

If there's a danger for the blogosphere, I think it's if bloggers try to compete with major news sources or abandon their unique voices to get more hits. Anyone who's started up a blog in the past six months knows that it's hard to attract a readership. Obvioulsy, part of this has to do with profile: you're competing against a million other bloggers for eyeballs. But there's something else, too: a lot of the commentary bloggers offer is cool because it isn't mainstream.

In my mind, the best bloggers are those with the most character--which often means they'll appeal only to an audience that shares the tastes and interests of that blogger (Jack Bogdanski, one of the most literate and interesting writers on the net, tends to cover local Portland politics and attracts--by his own estimate--fewer than a hundred readers a day). Bogdanski is idiosyncratic, which means I need to read other blogs as well But without his blog, I would literally not understand the world in the way I do. So while I am a faithful reader of Josh Marshall, I also want to know about what someone's thinking about, say, feminism or hear a thoughtful person remark on why Dubya's cool. Voila!--my world is now more comprehensible than if I only read the Times.

Over the course of the next months and years, the blogosphere will become a heavily-scrutinized new medium. People will try to figure out where it fits in the world of journalism, what its utility is. I don't think it's possible to nail it down--the utility of the blog is limited to the deftness with which the reader navigates it. It will never replace or compete with professional journalism, and effots to make it into that are doomed to failure. The blogosphere is alchemy. But for those who lament they only have 100 readers a day, there's a big flip-side: for those hundred people, your blog is essential and unique reading. If your blog winks out of existence, that nueron on the net is lost.

Small, yes; insignificant--far from it.

posted by Jeff | 6:29 PM |

Friday, April 11, 2003  

It's such a wild scene, it's hard to know what to say. On the one hand, the chickenhawks are gloating at their "success." Adelman, he of the "cakewalk" prediction, wrote yesterday:

"Administration critics should feel shock over their bellyaching about the wayward war plan. All of us feel awe over the professionalism and power of the U.S. military. Now we know....

"Other commentators were far scarier. Any U.S. attempt at 'regime change' would, they warned, trigger Scud and other missile attacks to obliterate Israel and U.S. troops stationed in the region; provoke the igniting of hundreds, no thousands, of Iraqi oil fields; prompt a wave of terrorism across America; impel mobs into the Arab street to foment revolution against 'friendly regimes'; cause flooding across Iraqi plains; induce Saddam Hussein, his back against the wall, to attack us and his own people with chemical and biological weapons

(Nice to see the hawks have got their eye on the ball: scoring political points.) On the other hand, there appear to be mobs fomenting revolution against--well, hard to say, amid all the chaos. They're sure fomenting something.

In fact, this bloody mess of looting and lawlessness--not to mention the assassinations, Kurdish agression--was perfectly predictable. Well, predictable by a random blogger in Oregon, anyway, if not by the US military. If anything, it's further evidence of a hugely botched operation.

Among the predictable, yet somehow unanticipated horrors going on in Iraq:

• As chaos rises, the hospital system is breaking down.
• Archaelogical artifacts looted.
Suicide bombings begin, leading to civilian casualties.
• Turkey's becoming agitated and is ready to send in the troops.

Apparently, along with the expectation that the Iraqis would greet Americans as conquering heroes, the White House forsaw a scene of social bliss following the liberation. My question is: at what point do Americans--the two-thirds who think the war is going swimmingly, that is--begin to regard our leadership as grossly unprepared for the task at hand? When does the word incompetence start to figure in prominently. How about now: this whole operation was an exercise in incompetence.

posted by Jeff | 2:30 PM |

Well. The war is over, but the spin is just beginning. If the fog of war was dense, then the fog of mop-up (and occupation) is impenetrable. In the fight to write history, we're hearing just about every possible opinion on the war--most of them in perfect, balanced opposition. For example, either: the war was a brilliant success or a catastrophe of poor planning that took 20 days longer than it should have; the Iraqis love Americans and greeted them as liberators or, except for a handful of dissenters who posed for the cameras, Iraqis despise the Americans and oppose the occupation; the war was a surgical example of targeted warfare, or the war was a bloody mess. And so it goes.

The truth? There is no truth, exactly, just spin. We'll never be able to know whether the war could have been a 100-hour job because we can't re-fight it using the Powell Doctrine instead of the Rummy Hypothesis. We'll never know if the Iraqis would have welcomed us as liberators had we not jammed the war down the world's throat. We may never know how many civilians were lost--and certainly won't have accurate numbers about dead soldiers.

The spin is pure politics.

The administration has made a huge gamble. It's betting that the resolution to this war will outweigh all the negatives--the aggressive diplomacy, the lies, and the faulty excuses it offered for invading. It's betting that it can impose democracy on a country divided by violent history, race, and creed. It's betting the war will ultimately lower passions, not raise them, in the region. It's betting other "evil" regimes will fear invasion and stand down. It's betting the American public will have the stomach to spend 20 billion dollars a years to rebuild the country. And it's betting that the rest of the world will look at what happened in Iraq and change their views about American foreign policy.

The spin is all about buying themselves time to see how the gamble turns out. My hope? At this point, now that there are thousands who have paid with their lives for this venture, I desperately hope the administration's right. I would love nothing more than to see the country flourish--after all, it's not the Iraqis who initiated this debacle. Sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reasons. I pray they do here. But I'll tell you, I look at the odds against it, and then I look at the resources of the administration who's attempting to make it happen, and I don't see how it can be done. Enforcing democracy? Enforcing democracy when in the US the administration is systematically trying to dismantle it? Navigating the extremely troubled waters of negotiation and diplomacy between Sunnis, Kurds, and Shias within the country and an angry world outside is difficult in any case, but this administration?

From where I sit, Bush has a better chance of winning the lottery than achieving his objectives in Iraq. No matter how good the spin.

posted by Jeff | 11:21 AM |

Thursday, April 10, 2003  


posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  

With the Bush administration, it's always the policy first and then the reason. Invade Iraq? Regime change. Uh, weapons of mass destruction. Uh, gassed his own people. Whatever.

So then we get news this week that Syria's on the block for the next invasion. Syria? Where'd that come from? Just wait a second, the administration will give a reason, however implausible. Wait, here it comes, here it comes...

Ah, there it is: gotta invade because Syria's hiding Saddam.


posted by Jeff | 8:26 PM |

More Legal News

Let's just call it Legal Wednesday. A lot going on...

Seeing the fog of war clearing, Republicans are acting quick to make Big Brother laws permanent. Currently, they're due to expire in 2005. When, Republicans presumably figure, the news cycles will be covering something other than a grainy picture of Baghdad being blown to bits.

Dems block vote on Priscilla Owens, who was re-nominated during the fog of war.

Via Atrios, we have word that the President has nominated another extreme conservative for the 11th Circuit. Bill Pryor, 'Bama AG. Among his views: Barnes and Noble peddles porn, the Ten Commandments can be legally posted, and (of course) abortion ain't legal. The announcement came today, during ... the fog of war.

posted by Jeff | 10:50 AM |

Supreme Court Thoughts

Do you get a sinking feeling every time you hear Nina Totenberg's voice intone the words "Supreme Court decision?" It's like a Pavlovian response: you duck for cover. Fortunately, I think the court got this week's decisions right.

Cross Burning
As a radical free-speecher, I'm really delighted about this decision. Although the purpose of burning a cross seems clearly (in most cases) to be a threat, I was worried that a ruling banning the practice would be a blow against free speech. Instead, the court narrowed their decision to target only the occasions when cross burning is a threat (when it's burned on a black homeowner's lawn, for instance), rather than protected political speech (at a David Duke rally, for instance).

It also deals a serious blow to the violent anti-abortionists. Recall that a case is working its way through the courts based on the "Nuremburg Files" website. It featured a "hit list" of doctors with their addresses for protesters to target. Whenever a doctor was killed, the hosts drew a line through the name. (A facsimile of the site can be found here.) Originally, a jury issued a $107 million verdict against the group, but it was overturned on appeal. As I understand it, the case will now be heard by the 9th Circuit. The Supreme's ruling in the cross-burning case should help clarify some of the issues in the Nuremburg case.

Punitive Damages
This case is more controversial. The case involved a $145 million verdict against State Farm Insurance, who felt the verdict's punitive finding was out of line with the damage award.

"The court overturned $145 million in punitive damages that a Utah jury awarded against State Farm and that the Utah Supreme Court upheld. The jury had awarded $1 million in compensatory damages to a Utah couple, State Farm policyholders, who sued the company for its refusal to settle a claim and for exposing them to personal liability beyond the limits of their policy for a car accident in which a jury found the husband liable. State Farm eventually paid the claim.

"Justice Kennedy said the ratio of 145 to 1 resulted in a damage award that was 'neither reasonable nor proportionate to the wrong committed.' He called it 'an irrational and arbitrary deprivation of the property of the defendant.'"

| link |

It is potentially controversial because Democrats, who get truckloads of dough from trial lawyers, argue that there should be no limit. I disagree. A number of industries are seriously threatened by these massive lawsuits, not the least of which is medicine (because malpractice insurance is through the roof). The argument is that if massive judgments can't be brought against corrupt corporations, they'll run roughshod over the consumer. Of course, I'm all for punishing corporations, but the judiciary is the wrong branch of government to deal with the problem: it's a job for legislators.

posted by Jeff | 10:25 AM |

Incidentally, I've been trying to update my blog roll for some time now. Signed up for the Blogrolling thing as a way of promoting organization. If there's some really groovy blog you know about (which may be your own), email or comment and let me know. (I try to link only those blogs I read regularly and enjoy. Ignorance of a blog is hardly an excuse...).

posted by Jeff | 9:15 AM |

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  


Over at ReachM High, Cowboy Kahlil has made a suggestion:

I'd like to propose something else to bloggers who respect life, I don't care what your political persuasion. For the innocent of Iraq, for the journalists who've died, for all the dead soldiers, I propose that we make Thursday a day of silence in the blogosphere. No posts. No comments. Perhaps a memorial message to whoever you wish, posted as a final post the night before."

Actually, I think it would make more sense, given that we're wordy types and our words seem to help, that we offer up a single, coordinated word. Send out the message through the blogosphere that at, say noon eastern time on Friday, we all post the word PEACE. (I'm open to other suggestions, but peace is something to which we all aspire.) Just that.

[Or Thursday, as the case may be.]

posted by Jeff | 10:56 AM |

Price of War

The overwhelming might of the US military is looking decisive as the war approaches the end of week three. The US is beginning to secure Baghdad, and the residents there--civilians, conscriptees, and military--are shifting allegiances (they know something about gauging the shifting winds of power).

When the war concludes, as it surely will, the emotion will shift from shock toward hope. Media stories will focus largely on the signs that things are about to change for the better. Even within Iraq, people will embrace hope rather than dwelling on sadness and loss—because hope will be available. With the immediate horror of war complete, the world will look forward. (Time will tell whether the hope was well-placed.)

But other realities are attached to the hope like shadows to a body: the young boy whose parents were killed when a bomb hit his house. He lost both arms (graphic picture) and will spend a lifetime bearing the weight of the war. In Baghdad, reporters send conflicted messages of success and failure—Rumsfeld’s bombs are indeed the most accurate in history, but that doesn’t mean the deaths of civilians weigh more lightly on the minds of those who survive them.

Americans are distant from the action of the bombs, and we prize freedom so highly that for many of us, the war seems a fair trade: a few lives in exchange for the freedom of a nation. Maybe so. Some Iraqis will agree, some won’t. But it’s a question that can’t be answered by polling.

One thing is sure, though: those who decided the price was fair are not those who are paying it. The Americans who support this war don’t have to climb out of the rubble in the morning to assess the destruction, take inventory of the dead, and decide if the promise of a better tomorrow is a decent gamble. They’ll hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, because at this point it’s all that’s left to them.

In the April 7 New Yorker, reporter John Lee Anderson, who’s in Baghdad, quotes a doctor who treated him for a back injury.

“The sandstorm is coming back. You can smell it; it smells like the earth. Whenever I smell this, it reminds me of dead people. Think about it. Think of Iraq’s history. What is that history but thousands of years of wars and killing? This is something we have always done rather well, and a lot of, right back to Sumerian and Babylonian times. Millions of people have died in this earth and become part of it. Their bodies are part of the land, the earth we are breathing.”

This is part of that shadow reality Americans don’t experience. For us, democracy is available at the ballot box rather than the at end of a gun. Our rhetoric is heated because our democracy—ten generations since anyone died for it—is cheap and bloodless. When we fight our wars, the dead rot on foreign soil, become part of the dust of foreign countries. Our air is clean and dustless.

Will the war have been worth it? There will be many answers. We Americans should pay close attention to the answers of those who actually paid the price.

posted by Jeff | 10:19 AM |

Monday, April 07, 2003  

Incarcerations Up

While we're on the subject of justice for all, this just in: the number of people jailed in the US is over 2 million for the first time ever. It's an alarmingly grim report.

• one out of every 142 US residents is incarcerated;
• 12% of blacks aged 20-34 are incarcerated;
• only 1.6% of whites of the same age are.

The US has long been the world's leader in jailings. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the US's incarceration rate is 686 per 100,000 citizens. That's twice as many as Panama, and four times as many as Mexico and Jamaica. But don't think this is some kind of cultural or legal mandate: in the mid-70s, our incarceration rate was a quarter what it is now.

Oh yeah, and in light of the Mike Hawash jailing, it's again time to pose hard questions about that white/black incarceration rate differential. What the hell's gone wrong with our country?

posted by Jeff | 3:29 PM |

Mike Hawash Update

Despite crappy weather (the 36th rainy day of the past 39!) and inconvenient timing, this morning's rally for Mike Hawash was fairly successful. Estimates of 150-200 folks gathered (accurate, in my view) to show our support for Mr. Hawash. The crowd was an older group and was peaceful. Organizers did a good job of alerting the media--there were at least three TV crews and two radio crews on hand (and probably more than that).

A high percentage of folks in the crowd carried signs, almost all of which were on message. "Free Mike Hawash," "Liberty for All," "Due Process," and one person even had a sign with excerpts of the sixth amendment (more pictures here, courtesy of Portland Communique). After an hour or so, Steve McGready, Hawash's former boss at Intel spoke, encouraging the crowd to stay vigilent on this case and others in which legal rights are violated.

AP article here and a local news clip here.

posted by Jeff | 2:37 PM |

Sunday, April 06, 2003  

Ashcroft, the US Constitution, and Mike Hawash

On tonight's 60 Minutes, the US was introduced to a kind of tough-love justice in the post-9/11 era. It detailed the story of Muslims rounded up (in Ashcroft's America, they're the usual suspects) without being charged or receiving legal representation. All perfectly legal, thanks to a change in the law that allows people to be held as "visa violators"--again, indefinitely, without being charged, and without legal counsel. (In fact, it seems an obvious violation of the law, but until these kinds of medieval jailings get a legal hearing, the FBI will be beating down doors and chaining up Arabs indescriminately.)

But what's the government's excuse in Mike Hawash's case?

PORTLAND, Ore., April 3 — For the last two weeks, Maher Hawash, a 38-year-old software engineer and American citizen who was from the West Bank and grew up in Kuwait, has been held in a federal prison here, though he has not been charged with a crime or brought before a judge.

Relatives and friends of Mr. Hawash, who works for the Intel Corporation and is married to a native Oregonian, say he has no idea why he was arrested by a federal terrorism task force when he arrived for work at the Intel parking lot in Hillsboro, a Portland suburb. The family home was raided at dawn on the same day by nearly a dozen armed police officers, who woke Mrs. Hawash and the family's three children, friends said.

Mr. Hawash, who is known as Mike, has yet to be interrogated and is being kept in solitary confinement, his supporters say.

Federal officials will not comment on Mr. Hawash, though they have been pressed by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and by a group of supporters led by a former Intel vice president, for basic information about why he is being detained.

The excuse in his case is another loophole in the law that allows indefinite detainment without charge (although in this case he's been provided counsel): the "material witness" clause. (More info on his case here.)

Again, let's just review the facts: Mike Hawash is a US citizen. He's been denied his constitutional rights under the fifth and sixth amendments. And why? Because, in this third year of the new millennium the US has suspended the rights of a US citizen solely on the basis of his race.

Tomorrow at 8:30 am, we're going to rally at the Portland courthouse where he's supposed to receive a hearing tomorrow. If he does, let's hope the judge in the case not only frees Mike, but condemns this grotesque perversion of the rule of law.

(I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.)

posted by Jeff | 10:11 PM |

Friday, April 04, 2003  

Michael Kelly Dead at 46

"Michael Kelly, 46, the Atlantic Monthly editor-at-large and Washington Post columnist who abandoned the safety of editorial offices to cover the war in Iraq, has been killed in a Humvee accident while traveling with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division."

Oh my god. No one took more heat in these pages than Michael Kelly, and yet I'm shocked and deeply saddened to hear this news. I'll miss you, Mr. Kelly.

posted by Jeff | 5:07 PM |

“Support the troops”—but why?

I’m feeling controversial today. So how about this: why support the troops? Okay, because you don’t want to be beaten to death on a public street. But besides that?

I may or may not speak for a group of people who, like me, regard the military with suspicion. On the one hand, the need for a professional military, particularly when you’re a superpower, is well-established. On the other, there’s a whole group of us who don’t necessarily share the values, politics, or worldview of soldiers. In pubs, for example, we scuttle back to the longhairs rather than tarry at the bar talking to the guy in the crew cut who’s advocating invading France. All right, maybe he’s not a marine, but who can say?

I understand the ambivalence: there are kids in Iraq right now who are scared to death they’re going to die. There are kids who have died and maybe even some who are dying. They’ve got families at home who are worried sick about them. Some of them just joined up to get an education. Others are middle-aged professionals away from their professions and spouses and kids. It’s hard to not feel supportive of people in tough situations like that. We’re human; we’re compassionate.

But let’s look at the other side of the coin. We have a volunteer military, and everyone who joins is clear-eyed about what it means. It means you not only agree that the use of military force is a necessity, but you’re so convinced of it, you’re willing to die for that point. It’s not an accidental position. It’s a martial view of geopolitics. A perfectly legitimate one—the predominant one, in fact—but does mean that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe.

But most significantly, to serve in the military means you’re willing to go to war for causes with which you don’t agree. When duty calls, the military is ready. Serving in the military isn’t participation in a consensual process. It couldn’t be, obviously. But again, it’s a choice freely made.

And then at the end of it all, there is yet a final choice: serving in the US military isn’t like serving in the Iraqi military. If you don’t want to fight, you can choose not to. It’s a difficult choice, because it means shame and prison. But you won’t be shot. Many people have made a similar choice, and served their time. If a soldier believed a war was truly unjust, going to prison would be a noble alternative.

The hawks flog the doves with this crap about not supporting the troops. By which they mean to emphasize one's deeply treasonous nature. But it is crap. The hawks flog everyone (including each other) with accusations of disloyalty. For me, the truth is the war is unjust, it may well have enormously negative effects, and has certainly resulted in the lost lives of innocents. And the people who are conducting the war are the troops—citizens who have made any number of active decisions that reflect their conviction that this war is a good thing. Support them? No. They’re wrong. (Which obviously does not mean I wish a single one would die.) We're all citizens, we all make our calls, and we don't always agree.

posted by Jeff | 1:21 PM |
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