Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Magical Unicorns in jeopardy, Rice warns

Continuing with the theme of nonsensical titles.

Two-state Mideast solution in jeopardy, Rice warns

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that a "two-state solution" in the Middle East is in jeopardy and described a narrow window of opportunity to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

Magical Unicorns do not exist. (They died out during the Industrial Revolution) Neither does a two-state solution. A plan for a two-state solution does not exist. Things that do not actually exist cannot be in jeopardy.

The "narrow window of opportunity" for a two-state solution occurred directly after 9/11, when most of the world realized that the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts served as motivational and recruitment tools for terrorists. But like most foreign policy opportunities that brief window was left to wither on the vine, untouched. In the wake of 9/11 the Bush Administration did almost nothing, negotiating through minor diplomats in a show of disinterest.

Saying that instability in that region helps fuel terrorism or terrorism recruitment is now a faux pas. (If you listen to the Republican candidates) In our modern United States the notion of cause and effect, or even of related events, must be thrown out the window when terrorism is invoked. They hate us for our freedoms, our moms and our apple pies; a two-state solution won't change that. There is no drive towards a lasting resolution because we've completely divorced the conflict from any broader context.

The writer of the piece let Rice off the hook by pretending there is real progress and asserting that a two-state solution exists in any form. It doesn't, except in the minds of Rice and the author.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Critics say the moon is bigger than an elephant

Journalists should consider reading this book.

"Critics say the moon is bigger than an elephant." Seems dumb -- the moon is clearly bigger than an elephant, the "critics" have nothing to do with it. Yet this construct is commonplace in newspaper reports like this one.

Civil liberties and privacy advocates and a majority of Democrats said the bill could allow the monitoring of virtually any calls, e-mails or other communications going overseas that originate in the United States, without a court order, if the government deems the recipient to be the target of a U.S. probe.

The paragraph above is in reference to the recent FISA "fixes" bill, the contents of which are public record. The text of what the bill allows is short and understandable and what "civil liberties and privacy advocates" say is exactly right -- that is precisely what the bill does.

The entire piece is mostly quotes from various sides -- none of which are vetted by the author in any way. This is pure stenography, know-nothing journalism where the "journalist" uncritically reports he-said/he-said without any verification of claims.

The "critics say..." construct is pervasive in media, but the logical follow-up -- "well are they right?" -- is rarely addressed, even when the statements are purely factual and verifiable. In cases where verification is tricky even the simpler "do they have any evidence?" or "is there any reason whatsoever to believe them?" is rarely asked or answered.

This construct is popular because:

  1. It maintains a false sense of "balance" by attributing all meaningful statements to someone other than the reporter who then cannot be accused of advocacy.
  2. It lowers the burden of what is reportable by moving from reporting the facts to reporting what some third party characterized the facts as.

According to The Elements of Journalism "objectivity" is not a goal but a method that relies on verification. Verifying facts is hard. Verifying the truth of statements is hard. So the game becomes merely reporting what is said, as if that is the story. In that case the only the verbiage of the quotes themselves need verification.

What people say is rarely in itself news, especially when the people in question are provably dishonest. McConnell in the piece above says that the NSA is overburdened with work, but he also said that FISA fixes helped lead to the arrest of terrorists in Germany then recanted when pressed. Given that the man lied to Congress is what he says to Congress still news? Bush says we don't torture. He also said there was no indication the levees would break. What he says is worth exactly nothing.

The Elements of Journalism is a tragic read. Clearly somebody out there still gets what journalism is about. Too bad few are practicing it.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Harry Reid means it this time!

Bush wants another $42 billion for wars

Minutes after Bush spoke, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, warned the president not to expect Congress to "rubber-stamp" the latest request.

"In the coming weeks, we will hold it up to the light of day and fight for the change of strategy and redeployment of troops that is long overdue," Reid said.

Do Reid and Pelosi really not realize that their political theater is nothing but bad comedy? Congress has given Bush a perpetual blank check. How exactly are Democrats going to "fight for the change of strategy"? They can't even be bothered to vote against funding requests.

Their strategy is to bluster "no" and vote "yes." Always. You can only cry wolf for so long. What Reid and Pelosi call "fighting" the rest of us call "sitting on the couch."

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The cynics are wrong about Chris Dodd

You can support Chris Dodd here.

Cynics have been quick to dismiss Chris Dodd's stand against telecom amnesty, arguing that it represents nothing but an attempted shot in the the arm for his campaign, a way to raise popularity and money -- as if that were a bad thing. It isn't.

If Chris Dodd is merely pandering it means he believes there are a number of people worth pandering to. If he is merely raising money it means he believes there are a number of people willing to donate money for this cause. Even if it is a cynical ploy, it is still an admission that these issues have legs and real support among voters.

In case you haven't been paying attention, our politicians often act in their own best interests. They vote based not on what is right but what will gain them money and votes. In this case, if Dodd believes that fighting for the Constitution will earn him money and votes that's a wonderful belief we ought to encourage.

The best message we can send our politicians is that they will be rewarded not for fear-mongering but for supporting bedrock American values. Reward them for good behavior and they'll continue that good behavior. Based on his record it seems highly unlikely that Dodd's support for the Constitution is just an assumed affectation; but what if it is? He's still supporting the Constitution just the same, and doing the right thing for the wrong reason is far preferable to doing the wrong thing.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Democrats' master plan

A video explanation of the Democratic strategy. Got it?

Democrats in Congress are a joke. Despite all their bluster and their true mandate the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate eagerly capitulates to the President on virtually every issue. There are many explanations circulating for why that is the case, nearly all of them false.

The Democrats don't have the votes to get past a filibuster or veto.

This is one Democratic candidates used in a recent debate. This statement is technically true but irrelevant, because Democrats routinely fail to filibuster themselves and vote affirmatively for bad bills. It may be hard for the Democrats to pass legislation, but it isn't hard for them to defeat legislation. Democrats chose to vote for the Military Commissions Act. They chose to vote for the FISA "fixes", and now they are choosing to vote for telecom amnesty. To defeat these bills all they have to do is vote against them. But not only do some individual Democrats vote for these bills, important ranking Democrats often lead that charge and the leadership itself plays along.

To stop telecom amnesty all Democrats have to do is vote against it. Chris Dodd is threatening to place a hold on any amnesty bill and filibuster it, but he shouldn't have to do either. He is filibustering against his own party and their attempts to enable Bush.

There is nothing Democrats can do to stop the Iraq War.

Again: try voting against it. Democrats will say that most Americans are against de-funding the Iraq War as a way of stopping it. This is true, but only because Democrats have actively aided Republicans in convincing the American people that de-funding the war is "irresponsible." Republicans make it sound like our soldiers in Iraq will be engaged in a firefight when they suddenly run out of ammo due to money shortages and are slaughtered -- a pure fantasy. Even if Bush was determined to "hold the troops hostage" in Iraq without equipment the military itself would never allow that to happen and any reasonable Congress would impeach Bush as soon as his plan became clear.

De-funding is unpopular with Americans only because both Democrats and Republicans have portrayed the plan as dangerous. Democrats have actively dissuaded the public from supporting their single best strategy for ending the war. De-funding is "off the table", along with every other strategy that has some chance of success.

The Democrats have some elaborate master plan that maximizes their chances of winning the Presidency.

The Democrats are hedging their bets, they don't want to be blamed if another terror attack takes place. The Democrats are giving Republicans the rope to hang themselves. Blah blah blah...

The biggest complaint against Democrats is that they are spineless losers who stand for nothing, and they are doing everything in their power to support that complaint. Nobody likes people who don't fight hard, nobody likes people who fail where they should succeed, nobody likes people who place political calculations above all else.

The American public considers fighting hard to be heroic, even when the fight is lost. John Henry is a folk hero for fighting to the death against impossible odds. In case anyone forgot we lost at the Alamo. Rocky lost to Apollo Creed. There is no shame in showing heart in the face of long odds, but there is little respect for people who barely bother trying at all. "Giving them the rope to hang themselves" looks suspiciously like "doing nothing."

Democrats can't run on a platform of change if they are willing participants. The Democratic leadership is for telecom amnesty -- how then can Democrats run on the platform that they are against the abuses of the Bush Administration? How can they run against the Administration's use of torture when they voted for the MCA?

If this is truly their plan then they are so tone-deaf you have to feel sorry for them. But I suspect there is no grand master plan at work. The simpler explanation is that some Democrats are in the pockets of lobbyists, some are frightened children who cave when threats of terrorism are invoked and some are just plain incompetent and foolish.

When Democrats voted for the recent FISA "fixes" the reasons they gave were absurd: We had to pass something, anything, regardless of what it was! We were told that the capital itself was about to be attacked and the only way to prevent that was to pass the bill! We went to secret meetings and got secret info that we can't describe in any way but that totally convinced us! We met with administration lawyers who assured us the bill was fine! We were in a hurry to go on vacation and didn't have time to read and understand the bill before we voted on it!

Some of these people are just plain gullible and not bright. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me a thousand times...then what?

It must help people sleep at night to think that the Democrats are following some incomprehensible but brilliant strategy that has the greater good in mind, because there is not other reason to believe that.

Addendum: I should point out that some people think the Democrats are following a plan but that the plan isn't good. I can buy that one.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Deciphering the Clinton Marriage

Why oh why do people care? I feel like I shouldn't even link to this drivel but completeness compels me. Another screed analyzing the Clinton marriage.

I can't say it much better than Pandagon said here:

Now, for a lot of us, the idea of a couple that is (gasp!) mutually supportive, where they’re both attracted to each other intellectually, is commonplace. But for some reason, it’s still treated as an unheard-of novelty in the news media. Think of poor Maureen Dowd, who seems to really believe that it’s her ambition and not her choice in men that has left her single in middle age. The novelty of the Clinton marriage endures; maybe Barack and Michelle Obama will be spared some of the freak show treatment if he wins the nomination, having had the path carved out for them by the Clintons.

A married couple with roughly equal ambition and ability is a novelty to our media, and an affront to many conservative "traditional marriage" backers who cried "Billary" during the first days of the Clinton presidency. The same pattern is now repeating on a smaller scale with both Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards, both of whom also reject the notion that wives should be seen and not heard. (Unless talking about children's literacy or other proper wifely causes) It's sad that these relationships are news to people rather than the norm.

Marriage is billed as an equal partnership but to many people "separate but equal" would be more appropriate, or perhaps "equal but different." Wife tends the house and raises the kids, husband does the work. Here's an interview you probably won't see with Bill and Hillary:

Many readers asked how you handle stress.
THE PRESIDENT: I pray daily. I exercise nearly daily, and I've got a loving wife who provides a comfortable, warm place for me to come home to.

Now that's a proper wife! (Or a comfy bed, take your pick) The questions directed at Mrs. Bush in the interview are all proper wifely questions -- about the kids and the holidays and how she comforts her husband.

That is the model of marriage our traditional media accepts unquestioningly. They never ask if the Bush marriage is a sham or imply that Laura Bush's lack of political involvement makes her a disinterested unequal partner. They never ponder why she is so incurious or attack her lack of ambition. Rarely do they ask her about her own husband's policies. The understanding is that her primary duty is to provide that "comfortable, warm place."

But the questions never end for the Clintons, because Hillary has explicitly rejected that model of marriage. Here is a transcript of a frontline show centered on Hillary and the famous "baking cookies" comment:

TED KOPPEL (VO): Meet the new political wife. She has a career, she has opinions. A partner in every way.
JUDD (VO): There's never been a candidate's wife quite like Hillary Clinton, outspoken, independent, smart, but her strengths have been used to make Bill Clinton look like a wimp, even by a president who used to be accused of wimpiness himself.

The entire thing is worth a read for how hilariously awful it is. She has a career! She has opinions! She's a partner! Scary!

Yet here we are, 15 years later, and our media still can't get over the notion that equal partnership talk went beyond wedding-day pomp into the actual marriage of two bright, ambitious people. It's so foreign and unusual to them that they've spent over a decade trying to make sense of it.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Illegal spying began before 9/11

9/11 changed excuses everything

I have to admit this one surprised even me a little. (All emph. added)

A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

There are a few major takeaways from this:

  1. There is nothing we can't excuse by whoring out 9/11, even when they took place before 9/11.
  2. Our government punishes companies for not breaking the law, while granting them immunity when they do - effectively reversing legal and illegal.
  3. The efficacy of warrantless spying programs, which has never been evidenced in any way, now has more reason to be doubted as those programs did not prevent 9/11.
  4. Once again, we've been misled about the nature of the NSA spying programs - surprise!

Glenn Greenwald had a great piece earlier this week on Joe Klein's defense of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty. Klein argues that the NSA programs are essential -- even though he has no idea what they do or how effective they are. There is literally no way he can argue that, so he doesn't argue it -- he merely asserts it as fact.

The current head of the NSA was already caught lying about the effectiveness of government surveillance, claiming that recent FISA changes helped catch terrorists in Germany only to retract those claims when pressed. There is no reason to believe that these programs work, or that they are limited to fighting terrorism. We don't know what they do, who they spy on, how broad they are or even what the purpose is. We don't know how many people are privy to the information gathered or whether that information is permanently archived. (Which would be yet another violation of FISA laws)

In short, we simply have no idea what is going on, and by "we" I include Congress and the courts, including the FISA court. Yet that doesn't prevent administration defenders from swearing that these programs are both vital and properly managed.

Qwest did what few telecoms had the courage to do: it asked the government to provide legal rationalization for demands that appeared illegal, and when the government declined it refused to play along and in so doing fulfilled its legal obligation. "What the President says goes" is not a law in our country. We are a nation of laws, not a nation that unquestioningly follows a supreme leader. Other telecoms chose to follow orders that appeared illegal, and now the administration is tacitly admitting their guilt by lobbying heavily for amnesty on their behalf.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

They still have 0 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad -- wait what?

Oh state secrets, is there anything you can't excuse?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday terminated a lawsuit from a man who claims he was abducted and tortured by the CIA, effectively endorsing Bush administration arguments that state secrets would be revealed if the case were allowed to proceed.
The state secrets privilege arose from a 1953 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the executive branch to keep secret, even from the court, details about a military plane’s fatal crash.

Three widows sued to get the accident report after their husbands died aboard a B-29 bomber, but the Air Force refused to release it claiming that the plane was on a secret mission to test new equipment. The high court accepted the argument, but when the report was released decades later there was nothing in it about a secret mission or equipment.

Translation: suckers!

A quick review of how state secrets claims work:

  1. Government claims that any trial at all will jeopardize state secrets.
  2. Court accepts those claims based purely on faith.
That's the whole process. The court usually does not attempt to verify the claims and review the questionable evidence itself, nor does it allow the trial to continue but merely exclude the secret evidence. Instead, based on nothing but blind obedience, it short-circuits the entire justice system.

The very first invocation of state secrets that set the precedent turned out to be a sham. That is the true precedent: that the government can invoke state secrets claims to magically avoid embarrassing revelations.

Why not verify that the "secrets" are truly important secrets? Clearly the Supreme Court can be given the proper security clearance. Why not exclude only the specific evidence in question but allow the trial to continue without it? I've yet to find a reasonable explanation anywhere -- and I've looked. State secrets claims are nothing more than an exploit, a law-dodging tactic from literally day one.

In our country the courts invent legal theories that are not grounded in any laws, while ignoring actual laws including the Constitution. There is no law that states that the government can get off the hook and avoid trials by invoking unverifiable state secrets claims, for obvious reasons. Meanwhile abduction and torture violate many of our laws, including laws set forth in the Constitution itself. (Including bans on cruel and unusual punishment, the right to proper trial by jury, and that we must abide by international treaties.)

The conservatives who cry about "activist judges" are strangely silent on this one. There is no better definition of an activist judge than a judge that makes up their own pet legal theories that directly conflict with the Constitution. The Constitution is not a complex document, obfuscated with legalese and unfathomable to all but the sharpest lawyers. It is refreshingly straitforward; our Supreme Court Justices should consider reading it, and then doing what it says rather than what some invented legal precedent says instead.

We know that this administration has lied. Beyond that, our system of government is based on wariness, not blind faith and obedience. We don't take as a given that our government is composed of well-meaning, perfectly honorable people. Our system is predicated on careful controls that ensure no branch of government can abuse authority. When the executive branch can claim, without evidence, that a trial would expose state secrets and thus must be stopped there are no checks in play, it becomes a matter purely of trust.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We'd also like a million dollars and a pony

File this one under things that will never, ever happen:

The demands — part of an Iraqi government report examined by The Associated Press — also called on U.S. authorities to hand over the Blackwater security agents involved in the Sept. 16 shootings to face possible trial in Iraqi courts.

The Iraqi government is corrupt and volatile. Blackwater is corrupt and volatile. The last thing any administration official wants to see is ungrateful Iraqis trying and convicting Americans in Iraqi courts. The second a guilty verdict was returned the entire right-wing media machine would erupt in unison cries of "this is how they repay us?!"

For the Iraqi government this is a chance to prove their independence and to credibly operate as something other than an American puppet. Of course we want an American puppet.

The fundamental question of our Iraq adventure has been how do we accomplish the dual goals of a free democratic Iraq and an Iraq totally subservient to US interests? The answer is wishful thinking. When Iraq threatens to try our contractors or to engage Iran this becomes quite clear -- we have no real response as it becomes increasingly difficult to pretend that Iraq is a sovereign nation while we dictate what it can and cannot do.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Just how dumb do they think we are?

This is how we know they're all terrorists.

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

Q And the protests, themselves, seem to have been stilled. What do you make of that?

MS. PERINO: Well, unfortunately, intimidation and force can chill peaceful demonstrations. And reports about very innocent people being thrown into detention, where they could be held for years without any representation or charges, is distressing;[em. added] and we understand that some of the monasteries have been sealed.

It's interesting that Perino specifies "very innocent people" instead of simply "people." That's probably because when we detain people without representation or charges it's because we magically know they're guilty.* Olberman: Those Aren't Terrorists, They're Monks

And todays winner of the worst case of moral equivalence evah has to be MSNBC's resident idiot Keith Olberman for comparing Burma's Monks to terrorists being held in Guantanamo.

People being held in Guantanamo and CIA black sites are bad guys and bad guys don't have rights -- it's in the Constisomething as well as the Magna Whatsit. Maybe you've forgotten how the justice system works. Here's a reminder:

  1. Declare someone guilty of something.

* = Except when we eventually let them go without charging them with anything.

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