Friday, November 30, 2007

Rudy Giuliani Takes Yet Another Hit

Newspapers generally and The New York Times in particular have an aversion to calling people liars, preferring to let the facts speak for themselves and leaving it to readers to sort things out on their own.

That is why you'd be hard pressed to find a single Times news story that states in unambiguous terms that The Leader of the Free Word has a predilection for lying despite copious documentation to the contrary. You know who I'm talking about, right?

But Times reporter Michael Cooper comes awfully close to calling Rudy Giuliani not just a liar – but a serial liar -- today in a hard-hitting story headlined "Citing Statistics, Giuliani Misses Time and Again."

After examining a number of Giuliani's statements pertaining to his tenure as New York City mayor ranging from crime to fiscal responsibility and comparing them to the record, Cooper concludes that:

"All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong. And while, to be sure, all candidates use misleading statistics from time to time, Mr. Giuliani has made statistics a central part of his candidacy as he campaigns on his record."
While there is nothing remotely funny about this sorry record, it is mildly amusing that Giuliani has been quick to call others liars.

It was only yesterday that I wondered how it is so many card-carrying members of the Family Value Party are supporting Rudy despite all the crap and corruption that he is considered to be a front runner.

Well, I’m still wondering.

Why No Big Blogospheric Libel Suits?

Glenn Reynolds, whose Instapundit is one of the most read one-person blogs anywhere, also teaches law at the University of Tennessee. He has published a paper in the Washington Law Review titled "Libel in the Blogosphere: Some Preliminary Thoughts" that is a must-read for any blogger who is interested in more than just pointless, incessant barking.
Reynolds notes that there has been a paucity of blog libel cases and calls that "a pretty interesting phenomenon."

I also find that pretty interesting as someone who was a defendant in several libel cases against newspapers (all but one dismissed or withdrawn, with one hung jury) and burned the midnight oil many a time editing investigative pieces so they passed libel muster.
No major libel case has emerged since the advent of the blogosphere.

Blumenthal v. Drudge, in which Sidney Blumenthal went after Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report for writing that the political journalist had beaten his wife, is the closest example because of its portentious first-amendment issues. Drudge later retracted the report and apologized, but Blumenthal filed a $30 million libel suit. He later claimed that he was forced to drop the suit because he could not afford the cost of litigation.

Highlights from Reynolds' paper:

* The Internet is no bar to libel suits per se and blogs are no more immune from them than newspapers and other publications.

* However, bloggers cannot be sued because of intemperate comments left on their blogs because of a clause in the Communications Decency Act.

*The exposure of bloggers is further limited because they usually blog about public figures and, as is the case with more traditional media, malice with reckless disregard for the truth would have to be proved.

* An ideal target for a libel plaintiff would be a rich blogger who has done substantial original reporting, as opposed to a blogger quoting published material, but few bloggers make tempting financial targets.

* Blog culture itself frowns on libel suits. Blogging economist Donald Luskin, for example, threatened to sue then-anonymous blogger "Atrios," who has since self-unmasked himself. Luskin withdrew his threat under pressure from other bloggers.

* Many blogs are more like personal diaries and do not make tempting targets for litigation. A number of the largest blogs are group efforts like Huffington Post and Daily Kos that offer mostly opinion, which is not actionable as libel.

Reynolds says that the threshold of harm in the blogosphere should be higher because blogs are not relied on as sole sources of information as, say, The New York Times, corrections that remedy potentially litigious problems can be made quickly, potential plaintiffs can easily get their own stories out, and the blogosphere is a place "with its own culture, norms, and readership."

He concludes that many traditional media organizations have been reluctant to support full First Amendment protection for bloggers and other new-media organizations.

Reynolds says this is probably unwise because big-media organizations are becoming more like blogs all the time.

And, he notes:
"The various protections that the press enjoys, both formally, through the First Amendment, and informally, through culture, are likely to be more robust if people see them as something belonging to Americans generally, as opposed to being something that is the province of a few elite professions."
Thank you, Glenn, and amen to that.

Cartoon by Gregory from The New Yorker

That Dad Gummed Lefty News Media!

With 18.4 million users in October, the Guardian Unlimited’s website passed The New York Times website, with 17.5 million users in the same period, to become the most read English-language newspaper website.

Given the endless prattling from right-of-center commentators about that liberal mainstream media bias, what do these figures tell us?
* Do liberals fuel newspaper website growth more than conservatives?

* Are websites like these a guilty pleasure for conservatives?

* Are Americans looking more to non-U.S. websites for their news?

* All of the above?

* Or what?

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Fireworks over Phnom Penh's Tonle Sap River
By Mythical Dude

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

In Texas, a 19-year-old mother has told police her two-year-old daughter was beaten with leather belts, had her head held underwater in a bathtub and was thrown across a room, slamming into a tile floor, for failing to say "please" and "thank you" and otherwise displeasing her 24-year-old stepfather. The child's body was found in a plastic box in Galveston bay.

As authorities sort out details of the brief, brutalized life of Riley Ann Sawyers, also known as "Baby Grace," it is a haunting reminder of what childhood was like in America before parents of the Baby Boomers came home from World War II and one of them, Dr. Benjamin Spock, wrote a book for the first generation that would treat children as human beings to be loved and nurtured rather than creatures to be trained and restrained. . . .

Now, some critics find those children who were not drilled to say "please" and "thank you," as they near retirement age, a "me" generation, selfish, self-centered and the source of many of America's social ills.

But whatever the pathology in the case of Riley Ann Sawyers turns out to be, her story is a jolt to those who may have forgotten that the Baby Boomers also turned out to be one of the most sensitive and caring generations ever.


I just created a new chart on my electronic medical record. I typed in the patient's name, her date of birth and her phone number, and then I chose from the dropdown menus for sex and marital status. The blanks are automatically filled in, but this patient is a married woman so I had to change both, because the default option is male, single. And I can’t change the defaults.

Why do I have a feeling that the people who designed this program are male, single? It's a small thing, but every time I create a new chart I am reminded that "female" is considered an aberrant state of being.

-- JAY

Abandonment is one of humanities core anxieties, the fear of which dawns on us as infants when we realise we're actually an individual, separate from our mums and dads.

When you're a kid this is a very real terror, for abandonment in most cultures signifies death. If an infant is left untended in the wild (or in a city), it's usually game over unless you meet a friendly, lactating wolf.

For most of us though, it is an unfounded dread and those vicious moments of hysteria in the supermarket, when we've lost sight of our mother, are assuaged by her sudden appearance and the much repeated mantra of childhood that "it's OK, mummy and daddy are here."

Some kids (and adults) aren't so lucky and you may have known a poor bugger who turned up at school, his world collapsing, because this primal horror had been realised and mum or dad had disappeared, never to return.

It's another of society's frustrating hypocrisies that we condemn fathers who walk out on their families, but we despise women who do the same.


"I was a hairdresser until a couple of years ago," Gail Simone said. "It took me a long time to admit that I was a professional writer."

Ms. Simone was talking about her rise from hairstylist to online commentator to professional comic-book author. This month she added a new title. With the publication of issue No. 14 of Wonder Woman, which hit stores two weeks ago, Ms. Simone has become the regular writer of that amazing Amazon's super-adventures, published by DC Comics. She is the first woman to serve as "ongoing writer" (to use the industry’s term) in the character's 66-year history.

It's an assignment that will only increase Ms. Simone's profile. It's also the latest move by DC Comics to push Wonder Woman, the company's third-ranked hero, behind Superman and Batman, into the spotlight.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rudy Giuliani: The Teflon Don?

Has there been a presidential candidate in recent memory as ruthlessly corrupt as Rudy Giuliani? Not that I know of, which makes the fact that Republicans seem to be treating the dirty past of one of the party's front runners as a non issue an issue in and of itself.

Unless you spent the last few days in a cave, you know by now that in addition to all of Giuliani's other previously disclosed transgressions and indiscretions:
America's Mayor detailed several $100,000 a year New York City police officers to provide security to mistress Judi Nathan and her pooch while he still was married to Donna Hanover, whom he later announced that he was divorcing at a press conference without having first informed his ex-to-be.

Wait! It gets better. Giuliani billed obscure city agencies, including one that regulates loft apartments, for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses, as well as made trips on the taxpayer's dime to the Hamptons to shack up with Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.
Giuliani's response has not been so much to deny the allegations, which are laid out in detail in a paper trail that includes city records, credit card bills and other documents, as to say that they're not his problem.
Adultery? Check. Misuse of city police officers? Check. Misuse of city funds? Check. Are many members of the Family Values Party ready to nominate this weasel? Check.

Bwaah!!! Gimme Back My War

Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I figured this out. I know what's wrong with what we've done in Iraq. We've been following time as it goes forward. What a classic mistake. Linear time is so pre-9/11.
Well, it’s not even Friday yet, but if anything good has come out of this week it's that I'm now four-fifths of the way through grieving over the end of the Iraq war. I mean come on! A little sympathy is in order here. It's bad enough that I won't have the Mess in Mesopotamia to kick around any more, but then George Bush will be back at his ranch clearing scrub brush and looking for his legacy before we know it.

Regarding the war, I refer of course to the deal that Dubya and Nouri Al-Maliki have cooked up: The abjectly corrupt prime minister gets long-term coup insurance from the abjectly amoral president in the form of U.S. troops stationed at permanent bases and in return the U.S. gets first dibs at Iraq's oil.

Single-malt Scotch is too expensive, so I'm working through this shocker by employing the five stages that psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross determined that a dying patient experiences when informed of a terminal prognosis.

On Monday, it was DENIAL (This Isn’t Happening to Me!):
This isn't happening to me! The war was supposed to end with a whimper, not a business deal. I know that I was warned, but it can't just be all about oil. It must just be a bad dream.
On Tuesday, it was ANGER (Why Is This Happening to Me?):
I feel like the last guy in the room to get a really bad joke. Am I a sap or what? Howcum the MSM is treating this story with such diffidence? Boy am I pissed off! So pissed off that I'm gonna call some right-wing bloggers bad names.
Yesterday, it was BARGAINING (I Promise I'll Be a Better Person If . . . ):
Well, the deal technically is not a treaty, which means the Senate doesn't have to ratify it. That's bad, but maybe the Iraqi Parliament will block it. I take back all the bad things that I wrote about you guys. Honest. And I didn't mean to call all those bloggers bad names.
Today it is DEPRESSION (I Don't Care Anymore):
Speaking of bad dreams, I had a nightmare that I was Ahmed Chalabai. Then I thought I had gone blind when I woke up, but it was just the cat sleeping on my face. Couldn't stay off the Scotch. Can't find my eyeglasses.
While tomorrow it will be ACCEPTANCE (I'm Ready for Whatever Comes):
Think that Wall Street will throw a ticket-tape parade for returning GIs? Nah. But I suppose that one out of two wars ain't bad. At least things are going well in Afghanistan.

Movie Update: Americans Acting Badly

As noted here and here, Hollyweird has been in an antiwar mood lately, but these movies are anything but hits.
In a finger-wagging article titled "Iraq’s Other Bombs," Investor's Business Daily notes, for example, that Brian DePalma’s "Redacted" "drew a measly $34,000 at its opening and only $10,039 over the big Thanksgiving weekend.
Grinding its political ax, IBD says that Americans are sick of the Iraq war but desperate for "good" Iraq war movies. I think they've got it half right. The first half, that is.
Then there is the third half. These just aren't particularly good movies.
Hat tip to Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters

Henry Hyde (1924-2007)

More here.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Polimom

Cartoon du Jour

Tony Auth/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Lames ducks (from left) Olmert, Bush and Abbas
I sat and watched Bush's opening speech at the Annapolis Conference . . . Let me tell you: pundits aren't the only ones predicting that nothing serious is going to be accomplished. Bush himself pushed the expectations so low that, by all accounts, the fact that Abbas and Olmert were in the same room means that it could already be counted as a success. How low did he place the bar? Pretty damn low.


This is Bush's bash. His name is on the invitation. The party is at his place. The guests are strictly A-list. Every country that matters, and a lot that don't, will be represented. The European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League will be there too. They are all coming for the same reason: They have been summoned by the one man in the world to whom no one wants to say no.

It turns out that Bush, far from wrecking America's prestige and influence, has compounded it. Every government in the world knows that attending the Annapolis conference under the aegis of the president of the United States is an unmistakable acknowledgment that America remains the world's indispensable state. . . .

Despite the assurances of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. has not been humiliated in Mesopotamia. On the contrary, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent determination of the American occupation have concentrated the minds of the (ever fewer) anti-American Arab despots.


It is fitting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chose the U.S. Naval Academy for the venue of today's so-called Mideast peace conference. The reputation of that extraordinary institution in Annapolis has been sullied in recent years by a succession of rapes of young women.

Despite official efforts to low-ball its significance, Miss Rice's conclave is shaping up to be a gang-rape of a nation on a scale not seen since Munich in 1938, when the British and French allowed Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to have their violent way with Czechoslovakia.


The Palestinians are the cause of exiting and ex-presidents. There's no electoral payback in supporting them. Jews and Israel-loving evangelicals dwarf any Arab lobby to the extent it’s not even funny.

President Bush is on the exit track. It’s time to rectify the fundamental error he made in allowing war-on-terror rhetoric to discredit the Palestinian national movement. . . .

In seven years in office, Bush has been uninterested in such an ending. He hallucinated about roads from Baghdad to Jerusalem. He talked about two states and lost interest. American Middle East policy has been distracted and unbalanced.

Now, overcoming his Clinton angst, Bush has summoned the parties to Annapolis, Md. It's late in the day. The rising Middle Eastern power, Iran, has not been invited. Nor has Hamas. What’s present in abundance is desperation. Bush must use it.

The Palestinians are desperate because they are at a dead end. They've been the losers over six decades through ineptitude, corruption, Arab hypocrisy and their susceptibility to victims' hollow consolations.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The U.S., Iraq & Empire Building (Or: When A War Becomes a Business Deal)

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.
There inevitably are charges of American empire building in the wake of the sweetheart deal between the U.S. and Iraq under which the abjectly corrupt Baghdad government gets a long-term nanny in the form of U.S. troops stationed at permanent bases and the U.S. gets first dibs at Iraq's riches, which is to say its vast untapped oil reserves.

Jonah Goldberg and Ed Morrissey, among other leading conservative lights, argue that just because America is the leader of the free word does not make this a case of empire building.

They're absolutely right. What is happening in Iraq in 2007 is different than what happened when the U.S. occupied Cuba in 1898 or annexed the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, or during the Banana Wars in the 1920s when Marines intervened in Latin and South American countries to protect or advance U.S. commercial interests, typically bananas, tobacco and sugar cane.

But just because what is happening in Iraq in 2007 bears scant resemblance to those antecedents doesn't make it right.

This is lost on Captain Ed, or he chooses not to acknowledge it:

"We have fought and bled and died all over the world, but not for conquest; we have liberated lands from empire, not built our own. As Colin Powell and others have noted, the only land we required was enough to bury our dead. That hardly fits with the notion of imperialism in any real sense, and the accusation of empire insults the memory of those who lie in those graves. It's time we started to make that counterargument."
Which he does, but it's to the wrong argument. Let's proffer the right argument:
What the Bush administration has done is craft a brilliant and spectacularly amoral solution to ending the Iraq war.

It can claim that it will only stick around as long as the Iraqis want us knowing full well that the Shiite-dominated, benchmarked-impaired, democracy-deficient Al-Maliki regime is willing to barter Iraq's oil riches for long-term coup insurance.

This keeps U.S. boots on the ground indefinitely and the wells pumping for Big Oil indefinitely without congressional approval because, you see, the deal is a "strategic framework agreement" and not a treaty. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, Bush's point man on Iraq, has said as much.

If there is a fly in the ointment, it's not whether the White House has co-opted Congress, which it has done early and often and more recently with Democratic acquiesence, it is whether Iraq's Parliament will get on board.
While the historic past of the Great White Fleet (photo) and America's other imperialist ambitions of yesteryear don't play very well in this context, the historic present does. As I wrote barely two months ago when Iraq was still a war and not a business deal that would make a crony capitalist blush, there are three different groups of Americans:

*The vast majority who just want Iraq to go away and are literally and figuratively shopping at the mall. These are the people that the White House has counted on and they've come through spectacularly.

* The small but vocal minority like the Goldbergs and Morrisseys for whom the war started in January with the advent of the Surge strategy. The nearly four years between the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Surge are a blur or don't count when it comes to embracing the Bush-Al-Maliki deal.

* The also small but vocal minority whose memories are not so short. We have not forgotten the non-existent WMD, the collapse of the Provisional Coalition Authority, the first battle of Falluja, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the onset of a civil war and the emergence of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as a result of a failed occupation, all of which go a long way to making the deal that has resulted from these disgraces such a disgrace itself.
Okay. Now lets hear the counterargument to the right argument.

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Update on The City of Brotherly Mayhem

The last time we checked in with goings on in bloody Philadelphia, a police officer had been shot in the head outside a previously robbed Dunkin' Donuts by a perp who then stole his service revolver, a police officer and three other people had been wounded by an ex-con who drowned trying to escape his dragnet, and there was a lockdown at one of the city's largest high schools.
The first cop died and on cue Mayor John Street and Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, as usual, blamed the continuing carnage on lax state gun laws.

Those laws -- dictated by a gun-happy state Legislature -- are indeed a factor, but only one of many, and these officials yet again showed no sign of being able to come to grips with the City of Brotherly Mayhem'’s demons, which are substantially of its own doing.
Since then there have been two developments of note:

* Rubbing salt in Philadelphia's wounds, New York City police say the Big Apple appears to be on track to have fewer than 500 murders in 2007, the lowest annual rate in four decades and a far cry from 1990 when 2,262 homicides were recorded in what was then called the Murder Capital of America.

With a population of 8.5 million, this extrapolates out to about one murder per 17,000 people. Philadelphia, by contrast, is on track to record about 400 murders in 2007, or one per 4,500 people for the city of 1.8 million.

* Michael Nutter, who vowed to fire Johnson if he was elected mayor, won in a landslide and promptly announced the appointment of Charles Ramsey, the District of Columbia police chief.

Ramsey, it seems, is the un-Johnson. He has a reputation as a tough guy who declared four crime "emergencies" during his tenure and has been the bane of civil libertarians. In fact, the capital city has had to pay out several million bucks to settle lawsuits filed against the department.
But guess what?

During Ramsey’s nearly nine years in Washington, homicides fell from about 300 a year to about 170, and that's all that matters to many Philadelphians.
A centerpiece of Nutter’s mayoral campaign is a "stop and frisk" law enforcement plan under which police can stop anyone they believe to be suspicious. The procedure was upheld by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio, but outgoing Police Commissioner Johnson had stopped short of ordering its use because of the historic enmity between Philadelphia's black community and a police department that has been entangled in many brutality scandals involving black victims over the years.

Ramsey is a proponent of "stop and frisk," and under him D.C, police instituted a series of traffic checkpoints at which information about motorists who were breaking no law were entered into a database. The move was blasted as an invasion of privacy not by a civil libertarian, but by an official of the police union, and the practice was stopped.

The question of the hour, of course, is whether the good burghers of Philadelphia can be protected from murderous thugs and have their civil liberties protected at the same time.

Leading Philly blogger Will Bunch has his doubts, writing:

"Look, I'm aware the city is an emotional tinderbox, and from what I've heard and read recently, some Philadelphians would be happy to chuck civil liberties out the window as a way to clean up the streets and avenge the cop shootings (even though most crime experts note it's actually possible to reduce crime and respect liberty at the same time.)

"Well, put it this way: If you are a civil-liberties-chucker, then Charles Ramsey is your man."
Will and I usually are on the same page, but I’m willing to give Nutter and Ramsey more than a half a chance to pull off this balancing act.

Then there is that most famous Philadelphian of all. No, not Rocky Balboa. I'm talking about Benjamin Franklin, who wrote:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

It is one of Paris's most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries.

But it is unlikely that the Panthéon, or any other building in France's capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week.

Four members of an underground "cultural guerrilla" movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France's cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.


If the Venezuelans who go to the polls next month give Chavez what he wants, they are likely to discover a paradox: They can bring about dictatorship through democracy, but not the reverse.


The conventional wisdom says that celebrity endorsements don't mean much in politics. But the conventional wisdom also says that enormously long, difficult novels published more than a century ago don't suddenly become bestsellers. Now we're about to see whether the "Oprah effect" can do for Barack Obama what it did for Leo Tolstoy.

The Obama campaign's announcement yesterday that Oprah Winfrey will barnstorm the early-primary states with the candidate she has called "my favorite guy" was big news in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Theoretically, the active support of a popular talk-show host shouldn't have much impact on Obama's prospects one way or the other. But we're talking Oprah here.


How is one supposed to feel about the state of the education system society when a college gives medical benefits to employee's pets but not to same sex partners?


As the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart is used to being greeted by large numbers of applicants almost every time it opens a new store.

But the 6,000-plus people who applied for jobs at the new Supercenter in Cleveland’s Steelyard Commons took everyone, even Wal-Mart, by surprise.


With 18.4 million users in October, the Guardian was ahead of, which registered 17.5 million users in the same period, according to Nielsen / NetRatings. This was a record for both sites, as The New York Times’ user pool grew due to the shutting down of TimesSelect, and the Guardian launched Guardian America. Considering these recent results, the Guardian seems to be winning its bid to become the referential international news site. Guardian Unlimited’s US readership was already very strong before the launch of Guardian America. And US readers are reportedly drawn to the British online editions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Iraq: The Conspiracy Freaks Were Right


I feel like the last guy in the room to get a bad joke this morning in the wake of announcements in Baghdad and Iraq that there is a quid pro quo deal in which the U.S. will babysit the Shiite-dominated Al-Maliki regime indefinitely in return for giving U.S. entrepreneurs first crack at Iraq's riches, which lest there be any doubt are its vast untapped oil reserves and not figs or palm-frond chachkes.

The arrangement carries the weighty title of a "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America." It is described as a work in progress but in reality is an all-but-done deal.

As an early if reluctant supporter of the war who became a vocal anti when it became obvious that the Bush administration's serial rationales were cooked, I still clung to the notion that once there was a modicum of stability in Iraq the U.S. would up and leave, closing out a sad chapter in American history.

But as knowledgeable as I have been about the ebb and flow of the military campaign, the growth of the insurgency and civil war, the eventual success of the Surge strategy in the absence of any effort by Prime Minister Al-Maliki and his American helpmates to get serious about trying to attain that stability, I did not want to believe that this was merely a 21st century version of American imperialism in Latin America, which included nearly 20 invasions in the Dominican Republican, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and elsewhere to protect and advance American commercial interests.

The underwhelming response in the mainstream media and from the Democratic presidential campaigns is further evidence that I've allowed myself to be played for a sap.

The New York Times, for one, was slow to post anything on the deal, and when it finally did its irony-free story read like a business section piece on two major Wall Street firms dealing with an accounting error, in this case the U.S. and Iraq greasing the skids to get out from under a cumbersome U.N. resolution which has been the legal justification for the invasion and occupation. Now, according to the Times, the two nations will be able to have "a far more durable political, economic and security relationship."

And so we can say aloha to planting the seeds of democracy, benchmarks, standing down when the Iraqis stand up and all of the other red, white and blue bushwah of the past four and a half years. The Decider and the conspiracy theorists were both right. Mission Accomplished! (Just don't mention Afghanistan, where the situation grows more dire by the day, okay?)

Meanwhile, I'm asking my broker to by me some ExxonMobil stock. Then I'm going to get my prescriptions changed.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Beautiful Map du Jour

All roads led to Rome back when the Tabula Peutingeriana was made in the Middle Ages.

This photograph is of only a smart part of the parchment scroll, which is almost 7 yards long and the only surviving copy of a road map from the late Roman Empire. It resides in the Austrian National Library, where it recently was exhibited for a day.


Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

The construction [of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad] has proceeded within budget and on time. For the State Department, this is a matter of pride. The prime contractor is First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting, which for security reasons was not allowed to employ Iraqi laborers, and instead imported more than a thousand workers from such countries as Bangladesh and Nepal. The importation of Third World laborers is a standard practice in Iraq, where the huge problem of local unemployment is trumped by American fears of the local population, and where it is not unusual, for instance, to find U.S. troops being served in chow halls by Sri Lankans wearing white shirts and bow ties.

First Kuwaiti has been accused of holding its workers in captivity by keeping their passports in a safe, as if otherwise they could have blithely exited the Green Zone, caught a ride to the airport, passed through the successive airport checkpoints, overcome the urgent crowds at the airline counters, purchased a ticket, bribed the police to ignore the country's myriad exit requirements (including a recent H.I.V. test), and hopped a flight for Dubai. Whatever the specific allegations, which First Kuwaiti denies, in the larger context of Iraq the accusation is absurd. It is Iraq that holds people captive. Indeed, the U.S government itself is a prisoner, and all the more tightly held because it engineered the prison where it resides. The Green Zone was built by the inmates themselves. The new embassy results from their desire to get their confinement just right.


President Bush's indolent approach to (today's) Middle East peace conference in Annapolis suggests that he's just going through the motions to make his beloved secretary of state happy.


The Peace Corps is asking older Americans who might have heard President John F. Kennedy’s call to service more than 40 years ago to heed his request.

Though older recruits are nothing new to the Peace Corps, it recently began an initiative to entice people age 50 or older into joining at a time when many of them are stepping away from a career and into the great unknown of retirement.


Bill Clinton's shadow over the 2008 nominating race creates potential pitfalls for his wife and for her opponents. Hillary Clinton risks being seen as something other than her own candidate, while her opponents risk offending Iowa Democrats who revere the former president.

There is an axiom about movie plots: If a gun is seen in an early scene, it will be fired before the final credits.

So it is now in the international movie of our lives after the unreeling of more than half a century with weapons that could bring total devastation.


There's no question in my mind that horror at militant Islam and fear of Muslim immigration lie behind at least some of the current vogue for atheism--you don't make the bestseller list by excoriating the evils of Lutheranism or Buddhism.

. . . The problem is that the more scorn one feels for religious belief, the less able one is to appreciate "reformed" or "moderate" variants of the faith. After all, pro-gay Episcopalians and liberation theology Catholics still believe in Christ, the afterlife, sin; reformed Jews still find wisdom in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, an atheist should have no truck with any of it. But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion--which also often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity--you're not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there's a mosque- or churchful of people who'll choose the old-time religion if the only other choice is nothing.


Photograph by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Monday, November 26, 2007

It's Official: The Forever War Is Forever

And so in the end, a war that has taken the lives of nearly 4,000 Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqs, further destabilized the Middle East, provided one-stop shopping for fledgling terrorists and sullied the legacy of an American president ends not with a bang or a whimper – but with a business deal that will assure that George Bush's Forever War is just that.

That is the substance of reports the Baghdad government, seeking protection against the inevitable coup attempts and foreign threats once a drawdown of U.S. troops finally commences, has graciously offered the U.S. a deal that it can hardly refuse: Preferential treatment for American oil companies . . . er, investments in return for an indefinite U.S. troop presence.

In short, a Shiite-dominated nanny state.

Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, President Bush’s advisor on the war, calls the deal
"a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations." In this case on a rust bucket with too many miles on the odometer and four bald tires, but with a limitless supply of gasoline to keep it on the road so long as it stays away from Basra, where things have gone from bad and are stuck on worse.

There's something in the deal for almost everyone:

* The U.N. can lift those niggling restrictions on Iraqi sovereignty in place since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 sooner rather than later, leaving Baghdad and Washington to do pretty much damned well what they please. Which come to think of it, they've been doing all along anyhow.

* The Al-Maliki government can drag its feet on political reconciliation indefinitely while getting long-term coup insurance in the form of 50,000 or so American nannies who will rush to the rescue of the inevitably hapless Iraqi security forces at the first hint of trouble.

* The White House can do the deal without Senate approval, while continuing to give the finger to Iran from the mega-bases it has built and wouldn't have given up under any circumstances.

American oil companies will get protection from the nannies as they merrily tap one of the world’s largest oil reserves while continuing to charge usurious prices at the pump and reap shameful profits.

So what's in it for the American people? Uh . . . give me a sec and I'm sure I'll think of something.

Oh, you mean this was all about oil to begin with?

One Strategy Fits All. (Not)


As noted in the post above, the success of the Anbar Awakening is relative and whether it works in the longer term as well as eventually enable a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq is an open question.

But this has not prevented the White House from considering funding and arming Pashtun tribes to push back against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the northwestern region of Pakistan, which under the benevolent gaze of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has become a sanctuary for the very terrorists that the chronically starved U.S.-NATO effort in Afghanistan was supposed to eradicate or at the very least control.

Military affairs blogger Bill Roggio, writing in The Weekly Standard, says that the plan is being promoted as somewhat analogous to the Anbar effort.

But, warns Roggio:

"The conflicts in Iraq's Anbar province and Pakistan's tribal areas are fundamentally different, and while both provinces are dominated by a strong tribal culture, Al Qaeda's draws support in each for different reasons. In Anbar, the tribes and insurgent groups aligned themselves with Al Qaeda in Iraq largely because they viewed Al Qaeda as an ally in the fight against American occupation. However, they turned on the terror group once it became clear that Al Qaeda threatened their very existence. In Pakistan, the Pashtun tribes have by and large openly supported the Taliban and al Qaeda since the groups first formed. The Taliban, with the help of the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency, was born in the Pashtun tribal belts, and Al Qaeda fighters and its senior commanders are welcomed among the Taliban supporting tribes there."
Roggio further notes that the counterinsurgency campaign proposed for Pakistan is not at all similar to that executed in Anbar, where the tribes fought Al Qaeda of their own accord before seeking help from the U.S.

The Pakistani counterinsurgency plan explicitly calls for U.S. forces to take a hands-off role and would rely on the Pakistani Army to buttress the effort and back up the Pakistani Frontier Corps, which is itself a failed counterinsurgency force with a long history of deserting or surrendering to the Taliban outright whenever the going gets tough.

More here.

Cartoon du Jour

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photographs du Jour

Life magazine covers by Magnum Photo masters.
More here.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Justice John Paul Stevens, 87, last week became the second-oldest justice in the Supreme Court's history. Only Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who retired at 90 in 1932, served to an older age.

Although Stevens has given no hint of retiring and shows no sign of slowing down -- in the courtroom, he looks and sounds much as he did 20 years ago -- the question of his tenure looms over the court and the 2008 presidential campaign.

If there is a tipping point in the Supreme Court's future, it is likely to come with his departure. What kind of justice would replace him -- and how strong the court's slim conservative majority would be -- may well depend on who is elected president.

Stevens, a lifelong Republican, was appointed to the high court in 1975 by President Ford. He succeeded William O. Douglas, a New Deal-era liberal, and soon helped form a moderate-to-conservative coalition that restored the death penalty as an option for states.

In the last decade, however, he has emerged as the strongest voice for the court's shrinking liberal wing. Stevens supports the strict separation of church and state, a woman's right to choose abortion and strong protection for the environment. This year he wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority that said the government may restrict greenhouse gases as a threat to the environment.


Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have been pandering so relentlessly for conservative GOP primary voters, each insisting that he is the superior immigrant-basher, that at some point I wouldn't be surprised to hear one candidate top the other by declaring that all illegal aliens should be waterboarded.


Over on the Democratic side, meanwhile, they've got a woman, a black, a Hispanic, a preening metrosexual with an angled nape – and they all think exactly the same. They remind me of "The Johnny Mathis Christmas Album," which Columbia used to re-release every year in a different sleeve: same old songs, new cover. When your ideas are identical, there's not a lot to argue about except biography. Last week, asked about his experience in foreign relations, Barack Obama noted that his father was Kenyan, and he'd been at grade school in Indonesia. "Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations," he said, "is the fact I spent four years overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia." When it comes to foreign relations, he has more of them on his Christmas card list than Hillary or Haircut Boy.


Rudy: I voted for McGovern but I actually preferred Nixon.


As the Democratic presidential candidates debate whether Americans should be forced to obtain health insurance, the people of Massachusetts are living the dilemma in real time.

A year after Massachusetts became the only state to require that individuals have health coverage, residents face deadlines to sign up or lose their personal tax exemption, worth $219 on next year’s state income tax returns. More than 200,000 previously uninsured residents have enrolled, but state officials estimate that at least that number, and perhaps twice as many, have not.


Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.


We don't trust the United States. We could suspend nuclear enrichment. We did it before for two and half years. But it wasn't enough then, and wouldn't be enough now. We will not suspend enrichment again because there is no end to what the United States will demand.


The Paris prosecutors' office has dismissed a suit against Donald Rumsfeld accusing the former U.S. defense secretary of torture.

The prosecutors' office [ruled] that Rumsfeld benefited from a "customary" immunity from prosecution granted to heads of state and government and foreign ministers, even after they left office.


Photograph by J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is CNN Sick? Or Is It Merely Slick?

There is much to find fault with the cable television news networks, but it has puzzled me how many bloggers waste their time -- and bandwidth -- endlessly harping about the perceived shortcomings and biases of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

God knows that they have plenty of both, but aside from occasionally giving CNN the back of my hand over its fascination with stories on missing blondes to the exclusion of arguably more important matters, I've got better things to blog about.

But a story by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times caught my attention because of his contention that CNN's embrace of hyperbole in this presidential campaign season is not merely bad journalism, but a coldly calculated effort to position itself ideologically the way that Fox and MSNBC have.

In fact, writes Rutten:
"We now have a situation in which the three all-news cable networks each have aligned themselves with a point on the political compass: Fox went first and consciously became the Republican network; MSNBC, which would have sold its soul to the devil for six ratings points, instead found a less-demanding buyer in the Democrats. Now, CNN has decided to reinvent itself as the independent, populist network cursing both sides of the conventional political aisle -- along with immigrants and free trade, of course.

In other words, for the first time since the advent of television news as a major force in American life, the 2008 presidential campaign will be fought out with individual networks committed to particular political perspectives. Why does that matter? As far back as 2004, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 'cable now trails only local TV news as a regular source for (presidential) campaign information. In several key demographic categories -- young people, college graduates and wealthy Americans -- cable is the leading source for election news.' Thus, for key segments of the electorate -- groups rich in what the pollsters call 'likely voters' -- the main source of political news is now a partisan, or at least, a politicized one."
And so the long slide of the mainstream television news media continues apace.

More here.

Hits, Misses & Close But No Cigars

In case you missed it, Kiko's House celebrated a blogversary earlier this week. Click here for some hits, misses and close but no cigars from our first two years.

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

One test of the greatness of a singer-songwriter is whether and how successfully their catalogue is covered by other musicians.
By that token, Joni Mitchell is a goddess. But then we already knew that, didn't we?
As I have travelled around the jazz radio webcast dial in recent weeks, I have heard selections from Mitchell's extraordinary songbook covered by Judy Niemack, Cleo Laine and Diane Krall, among other great jazz vocalists, and practically wept at the beauty of Laine's cover of Joni’s "Both Sides Now."

All this in addition to A Tribute to Joni Mitchell, a new album featuring beautiful interpretations of Joni's songs by, among others, Elvis Costello ("Edith and the Kingpin") Sufjan Stevens ("Free Man in Paris"), Björk ("The Bojo Dance"), Prince ("A Case of You") and a drop-dead gorgeous take by Cassandra Wilson on "For the Roses."
These covers seem a far cry -- as does Mitchell herself -- from the squeaky folk recordings that the diva was making in the late 1960s. But I knew even then that she was destined to have an enormous influence on me -- as well as other musicians.

Thank you, Joni.