Posted by James @ 4:21 pm on June 30th 2009

Taco Bell: Changing the Definition of Food


Taco Bell’s New Green Menu Takes No Ingredients From Nature

Posted by Brad @ 3:20 pm on June 30th 2009

John Edwards Sex Tape and Book Deal

Man, that’s a hell of a blog post title to write.

But the New York Daily News reports that we ain’t heard the last of the John Edwards saga.

His longtime aide, Andrew Young, just inked a book deal with a publisher. Young, you might remember, is supposedly the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby. That’s a lie, he admits, surprising no one. John’s the father.

Young promises his book will expose the whole thing. More details here, including this gem of snark about the aforementioned sex tape.

While he was unpacking, Young discovered a videocassette, according to the book pitch. Hunter had been hired by the Edwards campaign to videotape the candidate’s movements, but this one is said to have shown him taking positions that weren’t on his official platform.

I hereby nominate that sentence for some kind of award.

Posted by Brad @ 2:53 pm on June 30th 2009

Music Video of the Week

If you’re in the mood for a warm, old-timey song with a chorus that includes the line “the answer’s bacon,” have I got a song for you!

Old Man Luedecke – Joy of Cooking

Posted by Jerrod @ 1:56 am on June 30th 2009

How to break a dictator

The New York Daily News is running a series of short but interesting posts looking at the US interrogation of Saddam Hussein. The FBI has released several of the interrogation reports and James Meek at the NYDN is talking about the process. What’s important about this is that it illustrates the value of a traditional and established interrogation method.

From the 3rd installment:

On Mar. 21, 2004, the FBI team in Baghdad reported they had conducted 16 interviews of Saddam and a dozen with his former henchmen, including ex-foreign minister Tariq Aziz and a death-dealing thug nicknamed “Chemical Ali.” Noting Saddam’s willingness to engage in “dialogue, not an interrogation,” the FBI’s Baghdad agents told Washington that Piro spent several sessions “discussing non-threatening topics,” and that Saddam felt relaxed enough “to talk freely and to boast of past accomplishments.”

But Saddam also quit eating in some unexplained protest, the FBI memo said – though he had grown so dependant on the G-man providing for all his needs that “Hussein announced he was ending his hunger strike for the benefit of SSA Piro.”

“As the rapport and dependency between Hussein and SSA Piro continues to grow, more complex topics are being introduced into the interviews,” such as detailed questions about gassing Kurds in northern Iraq and suppressing the 1991 Shi’a uprising, the once-secret memo reported.

It’s annoying how short these posts are and it feels like that they are trying to drive daily traffic with the series (or maybe Meek just can’t write more than 800 words a day), but its an interesting series. It’s all too bad that Meek couldn’t resist this framing of the interrogation approach:

The FBI prides itself on “rapport-based” interrogations that have a high success rate for yielding confessions from the likes of 1993 World trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and CIA headquarters killer Mir Aimal Kasi. There was no “ticking bomb” scenario with Saddam – just inherent political pressure – so the interrogation proceeded carefully and cautiously over months.

We (should) all know by now what a canard the idea of “torture to stop a timebomb” is, both with regard to our rather selective consideration of which kind of “ticking time bomb” matters as well as the rather important point regarding quality of information you get from it. It’s like Nice Guy Eddie told us: If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he’ll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don’t necessarily make it fucking so!

What really matters is the power of a friendly word. A little touch of love and compassion goes a long way to unlocking an evil heart, you know?

Update: James Meek sent an email to explain his process:

To answer your question, I’m posting to the blog as I’m reading the files, which consist of about 24 individual memos called FBI 302 reports. I looked over the 134-page file and had an idea of how the interrogations unfolded, and then have carefully gone through each report, writing as I go, while also cross-referencing them with a separate box of FBI records on Saddam and comparing all of it with reporting from confidential sources. (I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Saddam files a year before it was public knowledge that the FBI had interrogated him, but got the docs 2 1/2 years later.) So what you’ll find is that my description of the interrogations is somewhat richer than what the files I’m posting describe. All of this is enormously time consuming and I’ve been doing it in between daily assignments. Yesterday I read 50 pages of the files and wrote part 3 while simultaneously reporting on a Supreme Court ruling with political implications for Sonia Sotomayor and for NYC.

Glad you are finding it of interest.

Cheers, JGM

Maybe I’ve become especially sensitive to others as is the Japanese way but I feel like a jerk for whining about his output. Considering how little I’ve written on this blog (or in my profession for that matter), I shouldn’t be throwing stones. Thanks for the reply, James, and good luck with the memos. He mentioned that one of the documents (see the “interrogation documents” link above) has already been viewed 500 times, a surprisingly large number, according to him.

Posted by James @ 1:01 am on June 30th 2009

Remember ‘Whatshisface’?

I do.

Posted by Jack @ 8:43 pm on June 29th 2009

Understanding the Honduran Coup, or “not coup” if you prefer.

The task is made particularly difficult by two factors:

1. The tendency of bloggers and opinion journalists to take rather predictable positions based on their position on the ideological spectrum and having little to do with the facts of the situation, and do so while grossly exaggerating, minimizing, or distorting the other side, as needed. In other words: situation normal. Right bloggers are cheering on the rational defense of Honduras’ constitution via legal and restrained actions of the combined military/ legislature/ judiciary against a President flaunting the law and intent on establishing a Chavista-style semi-dictatorship under the guise of people’s referendums. The Left views this as an outright military coup supported by the Right, corrupt business interests, and a compliant judiciary that acted in an obviously illegal manner reminiscent of Latin America’s long history of military coordinated coups.
2. The complexity of the institutional challenge faced by the Honduran government prior to the actual coup, and the MSM’s horrifically poor coverage of it in favor of wall to wall Michael Jackson stories, with side helpings of Billy Mays news.

First, a few very brief contextual points:

– The Honduran constitution, a 1980s construct, takes as an important design point the prevention of an overly strong president via separation of powers and what not.
– The constitution, like many Latin American (and other) constitutions, specifically assigns the military with a task of protecting the constitutional order. This inclusion, common though it is, has long been the source of great debate, with the military usually seeking an interpretation that provides them wide authority in deciding what is a threat, and what they can do about it, as opposed to those preferring strong civilian control over the military at all times. Though Latin America has a long history of military strong men and army backed coups, these days that is the exception: there has been a major historical backlash, and many of the militaries exist as redheaded step children, without much influence in the public sphere
– It is typical in Honduras and through much of the LATAM for the military to be involved with elections and referendums as the polling station securing agency. This is in line with a lack of Posse Comitatus equivalent, and a much larger domestic role for the military in general.
– President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya is a polarizing figure who leans decidedly towards the leftist wing of Latin American politics dominated by Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, but is generally considered saner and less extremist. He has aligned Honduras with ALBA, “Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America, an international cooperation organization consisting of the most leftist leaders in the hemisphere. The Bolivarian in the title is a reference to Simon Bolivar, the revered father of South American independence, and the figure most likely to be invoked by a wide variety of politicians, although Hugo Chavez has so co-opted the name and image of “The Liberator” that other may be loath to do so because of the baggage it now carries. Back to the story: Zelaya a populist with wide support among the poor and labor unions, and extensive opposition from the middle and upper classes, business organizations, much of the media, the legislature including much of his own party, and the judiciary.

A timeline: Which I derived primarily from Bloggings by Boz posts and links. Part One Two Three

Leading up to late June: President Zelaya has proposed a June 28 national non-binding referendum ostensibly to determine the population’s support for including a binding referendum on the November 2009 ballot that would call for a National Constitutional Assembly. Zelaya portrays this as merely checking the pulse of his population, and the constitutional assembly would be merely adjusting the constitution to bring this archaic 1980’s document into the 21st century. The opposition portrays this as a transparent and illegal move to hijack a defined process for constitutional amendment which he will then use to force significant constitutional revisions that centralize power in the executive, and allow him to run for President again (his one permitted term expires early 2010). The Honduran constitution assigns this role (calling for a national assembly) to the legislature, and the June referendum, though not actually calling for the assembly, seems like a sneaky and questionably legal tactic to end run this role. Some key personnel and groups agree: The Attorney General, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and the Supreme Court see it this way, with the latter ruling the event illegal.

June 23: The legislature, not wanting there to be any doubt, and faced with the President’’s stated intention of conducting the referendum anyway, attempts to close the matter during a late night session in which they pass a law specifically restricting the President’’s right to conduct a referendum within 180 days of a national election (scheduled for November).

June 24: Faced with both the Supreme Court’s ruling and the legislative law, the head of the armed forces, General Romeo Vasquez refuses the President’s order to assist with the referendum. Keep in mind that the ballots are stored at military bases, and this is considered normal in LATAM. A different culture indeed. The President fires the general. The minister of defense resigns.

June 25: The legislature and Attorney General and Supreme Court demand (“order”) that the president reinstate General Vasquez, and the AG begins impeachment proceedings against the President. This will become a crucial point, as my sources tell me that Honduras eliminated impeachment as an option for removing the President a few years back, and only direct criminal conviction can remove him. Take this last bit as tentative. It gets worse. Boz:

Then, in one of the more dramatic moments of Latin America politics I’ve seen in recent years, President Zelaya physically traveled to an Air Force base with trucks filled with supporters. The military had been ordered by the Congress earlier in the day to seize materials for the election and not allow the president to have them. Zelaya personally entered the base, the soldiers and airmen there stood down, and the president had his supporters load up their trucks with the election materials.

The Congress will now “investigate” the events of the past few days. The hints are that they may attempt to impeach the president.

On one side, President Zelaya and his supporters claim they face a coup attempt (Telesur even has a special “Golpe de Estado Honduras” section on their website). On the other side, Zelaya’s opponents, which include some of his own party members, say the president is attempting an “auto-golpe” in which he overthrows his own government’s institutions to take greater control. As I said, what we’re watching in Honduras is the definition of an institutional crisis.

So, the President will conduct the referendum regardless of legislative acts or court rulings. It is this series of willfully illegal acts upon which the military rests its justification for the following actions, and (more importantly!) that the right blogosphere concludes that these acts are appropriate.

June 28: Sunday, in the early morning hours, one hour before the polls are scheduled to open, soldiers force entry to the President’’s residence, arrest Zelaya, escort him (in pajamas!) to an airbase, put him on a plane, and fly him to Costa Rica. Through the rest of the day, Zelaya describes the event as an armed kidnapping, Hugo Chavez bloviates about acts of war and threats to use his military, the vast majority of the Organization of American States, including the US and Colombia (a decidedly right leaning administration), condemn the coup, and the Honduras legislature claims to have a letter of resignation from the President. The head of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, is appointed interim President by the legislature, and he announces that he will hold elections in November.

And there you have it. My assessment: A series of illegal actions by an overreaching President results in another, more immediate, set of illegal actions by the legislature and the military. The left bloggers who castigate the latter tend to ignore or mimimize the former (and I can sympathize, if you don’t want to call for a constitutional assembly, vote no and convince others to do the same) while the right bloggers ignore the illegal nature of the military arrest and exile of the sitting president, while simultaneously castigating Obama and Hillary Clinton for siding with Chavez, Ortega, and Morales. Colombia’s Uribe and the entire OAS gets left off that list, somehow. As a friend put it: “I am offended that I am forced to side with and defend this idiot Zelaya, but in this case, I do.” I feel much the same way.

Posted by Brad @ 4:02 pm on June 29th 2009

The Stonewall Riots

In case you missed it, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, one of the greatest and certainly most colorful protest/riot in civil rights history, when police and the Public Morals Squad decided to raid a gay bar in Greenwich Village and round up some queers, and got more than they bargained for. It doesn’t qualify was non-violent, and there’s a very fine line here, but still, it’s very hard for me to read the accounts and not have a great deal of respect for the drag queens and assorted derelicts in the club or on the street that night who spontaneously decided, en masse, that they’d had enough.

The Tactical Police Force (TPF) of the New York City Police Department arrived to free the police trapped inside the Stonewall. One officer’s eye was cut, and a few others were bruised from being struck by flying debris. Bob Kohler, who was walking his dog by the Stonewall that night, saw the TPF arrive: “I had been in enough riots to know the fun was over…. The cops were totally humiliated. This never, ever happened. They were angrier than I guess they had ever been, because everybody else had rioted … but the fairies were not supposed to riot … no group had ever forced cops to retreat before, so the anger was just enormous. I mean, they wanted to kill.” With larger numbers, police detained anyone they could and put them in patrol wagons to go to jail, though Inspector Pine recalled, “Fights erupted with the transvestites, who wouldn’t go into the patrol wagon”. His recollection was corroborated by another witness across the street who said, “All I could see about who was fighting was that it was transvestites and they were fighting furiously”.

The TPF formed a phalanx and attempted to clear the streets by marching slowly and pushing the crowd back. The mob openly mocked the police. The crowd cheered, started impromptu kick lines, and sang to the tune of The Howdy Doody Show theme song: “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We don’t wear underwear/ We show our pubic hairs”. Lucian Truscott reported in The Village Voice: “A stagnant situation there brought on some gay tomfoolery in the form of a chorus line facing the line of helmeted and club-carrying cops. Just as the line got into a full kick routine, the TPF advanced again and cleared the crowd of screaming gay power[-]ites down Christopher to Seventh Avenue.” One participant who had been in the Stonewall during the raid recalled, “The police rushed us, and that’s when I realized this is not a good thing to do, because they got me in the back with a night stick”. Another account stated, “I just can’t ever get that one sight out of my mind. The cops with the [nightsticks] and the kick line on the other side. It was the most amazing thing…”

Amazingly, as Adam Ricketson notes, these people were quasi-violent rioters. Forty years ago they would have been seen as appalling miscreants validating the negative stereotypes of gays and youth. Twenty years ago most would have agreed that they had gone way too far. Ten years ago, the site of their resistance became a national historic landmark and the gay community, eve the straight-laced one, couldn’t help but see that mob as having marked a turning point in the civil rights struggle. And yesterday, the Stonewall rioters were honored at the White House.

Put this up there with Emperor Norton as contemproary gonzo American history stories I’d love to adapt to film someday.

Posted by Brad @ 3:38 pm on June 28th 2009

Oscar Watch: Ten Best Picture Nominees

In news that seems to have shocked even dedicated Oscar-watchers, the Academy has announced that, as part of their big overhaul project that began last year, they’re going to expand the field of Best Picture nominees to ten.

Caveat: It’s very fashionable to snark about how little the Oscars matter, and that’s true. But, like the United Nations, while they don’t have any power to speak of and on paper aren’t very relevant, in effect they remain one of the best (and only non-market) influencer of insider executives. Prestige still matters in the movie business, and while I share the groaning over the rise of the middle-brow Oscar-bait picture, the indie houses of major studios, as well as the existence of your Miramaxes and whatnot, are still largely predicated on Oscar consideration, as are, I might add, the acting careers of some very fine artisans who, if multiplex big-budget were the only remaining metric, would not have the marketability and impact they enjoy by doing good work. In short, in the long run, I think the Oscars make the movie business better.

So, how will expanding the Best Picture field to ten effect things? Nobody’s really sure. For one, more Dark Kniqht-esque pictures will make the cut, and with that (the producers hope) better Oscar broadcast ratings, and while it might be easy to think that more surprises will happen with more dark horses, most don’t think that will actually be the case (if anything, the dark horses will further split and the inevitable will just get more inevitable). As Roger Ebert puts it:

Thinking it through, I suspect (1) more indie films will be nominated than the Academy expects; but (2) that the larger field will fragment the vote, so that the Best Picture winner will be a major studio picture. But it’s almost always like that anyway.

But for the most optimistic take, I turn to Noel Murray, who does a very good breakdown of the pros and cons. His take-away:

And with more Best Picture slots open, studios and indies alike could be pushing harder to get their movies seen. What does that mean to you, the home viewer? It might–just might–mean that some smaller movies get longer runs in the big city arthouses, and even end up finding their way into the hinterlands. Everyone knocks the taste of the Academy (and often with good reason), but it’s not like everything that gets nominated is dowdy and self-serious and simplified. And it’s certainly true that plenty of excellent movies contend for the honor of contending each season. More of those excellent-but-low-priority movies may put up more than just a token campaign, and as a result, the average movie fan may become more aware of them, and may even get to see them.

Doubling the number of Best Picture nominees may seem like no big deal–and in the grand scheme of things, it really is no big deal–but it’s going to give people who write about movies and people who love movies a lot more to talk about in the months to come. This small change may end up having a deeper impact than you might think.

Posted by Brad @ 3:18 am on June 28th 2009

Jenny Sanford

A pretty interesting interview.

Posted by Brad @ 6:45 pm on June 27th 2009

Que?

A Bolivian news channel finds and airs footage of the final seconds of Flight 447. From inside the plane cabin. In widescreen format.

Posted by Brad @ 4:04 pm on June 27th 2009

The Campaign for Liberty Worker Harassed by the TSA Files Suit

I wrote about the story when it broke in April here and here. Now, in tandem with the ACLU, Steve Bierfeldt has filed suit. Interesting caveat to that: the suit is specifically not seeking punitive damages, but is being pushed forward the the explicit intent of having those kinds of searches (TSA pulling you in a room and grilling you because you have a legally allowable but large amount of cash) declared unconstitutional.

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A lawsuit filed Thursday against the Transportation Security Administration alleges a Ron Paul supporter was unreasonably detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying about $4,700 in cash.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of Steven Bierfeldt, director of development for the Campaign for Liberty, an organization that grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The organization had hosted an event in St. Louis that included the sale of tickets, T-shirts, stickers and other materials and Bierfeldt said he was carrying the cash proceeds in a metal box when he was detained at Lambert Airport for about 30 minutes on March 29.

The lawsuit does not seek money but asks the court to declare the TSA’s actions unconstitutional and to prohibit the agency from similar searches when there is no evidence aircraft are endangered.

“It’s obviously important that the safety of flights be ensured,” Bierfeldt said in a telephone interview. “But subjecting innocent travelers like me who are doing nothing wrong — I think it diverts TSA away from its core mission of safeguarding air travel.” […]

Bierfeldt’s attorney, Ben Wizner, said the lawsuit does not challenge TSA’s authority to search and detain those suspected of taking weapons, explosives or other dangerous objects onto planes.

“That’s the whole purpose of airport searches,” Wizner said. “These are not, however, open-ended criminal searches.”

That is such a smart, well-played move on Bierfeldt and his attorney’s parts. Likely, whatever judge hears it will dismiss it because judges, on the whole, bend over backwards to write blank checks to the authorities when it comes to searches. But at the very least, the TSA will have to justify, in court, their ability to do exactly what Wizner says—open-ended “fishing” criminal searches on grounds other than endangerment. Presuming it gets past the legal hurdles to be considered on its face, a judge dismissing it would have to be comfortable ruling that the TSA has, in effect, absolute discretion to search and detain for any reason it feels like, or that mere undocumented and unchallenged “suspicion” on the part of any given TSA authority is an absolute legal blank check. That would be a tough call for a judge to make (not that they wouldn’t), and if he did find for Bierfeldt, it could wind up being a pretty important keystone ruling in limiting the powers of the TSA.

If there is a legal defense fund or comparable, I’m contributing to it. In light of that though, consider contributing to the ACLU, for my money the single greatest advocacy group on any issue in America today. This is the kind of work they do and it is, at every turn, vital to our republic.

(or hell, throw some bucks to the Campaign for Liberty, on our blogroll to the right, which is proving itself pretty savvy in these kinds of things).

Posted by Brad @ 3:17 pm on June 27th 2009

The GOP Governors

With Sanford out, Ken Rudin ranks the 22 Republican governors (all of them) on the chance that they’ll ever see the inside of the Oval Office. He released it as the Sanford news was breaking, so Sanford (who was #9) is cut out).

The top ten:

1. Tim Pawlenty (MN)

2. Jon Huntsman (UT)

3. Haley Barbour (MS)

4. Bobby Jindal (LA)

5. Charlie Crist (FL)

6. Mitch Daniels (IN)

7. Sarah Palin (AK)

8. Rick Perry (TX)

9. Jodi Rell (CT)

10. Bob Riley (AL)

I roughly agree with that. Pawlenty, of the currently active governors, looks the best right now, but I don’t think you can count Jindal out. Still, the most immediate benefactor (besides Mitt Romney) to Sanford’s fall is Haley Barbour, who has the South to himself for 2012 if he wants it. I can’t really think of a worse guy to contrast with Obama if you’re looking at long-term party image than Barbour, but in a vacuum he would probably do okay as a Southern white fiscal conservative protest candidate.

But still, I think my #1 might be Huntsman. He is certainly out for 2012, but I’m revising my prediction a bit to err on the side that, by 2016 and 2020, the GOP might be so beaten down that were Huntsman to come back to the fold, they might forgive him his Obama administration job in lieu of the fact that they could sell him as a very serious executor and Richardson-level experience. He would make a very strong centrist candidate, if the GOP ever go hunting for one.

Also, for the record, Nevada governor Jim Gibbons ranks as the least likely. Which is amusing, because he manages to actually clock in as less likely than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Posted by Cameron @ 11:24 pm on June 26th 2009

Pandelephants

It’s been panda fever in a Thai zoo because of a newly born baby.  The public has been fawning over the baby and the attention has prompted the zoo officials to build a new enclosure for the pandas.  Unfortunately this excitement has negatively affected some of the other residents of the zoo and they’ve become lonely.  Well, some crafty elephants figured out a brilliant plan involving water based body paint.  From the Daily Mail article:

I wanna see the Zebra version next.

Posted by Jack @ 7:14 pm on June 26th 2009

Dan Froomkin: We are prepared to make a generous offer

I hired someone today. I was given ridiculously wide leeway and authority by the rather large corporation for which I am a lackey to effect a hiring action, so I collected resumes, worked with our corporate recruiters, determined salary and compensation limits, conducted phone interviews, ranked candidates, conducted in person interviews, and made the offer, which was accepted. It was the first time I have ever done this, and I am drunk with power. Therefore:

Mr. Froomkin,

Various internet sources have advised The Crossed Pond staff that you are no longer under contract with the Washington Post, and that your departure from that organization occurred under somewhat controversial circumstances. As a reader of your column, and a fellow internet-based journalist of sorts, I was quite distressed to hear of your unfortunate change in employment status. Fortuitously, The Crossed Pond is seeking a high profile, opinion making journalist with internet experience from the DC area, and all indications are that you meet our requirements. Accordingly, I am prepared to wave our normal screening process and make a generous offer for your services. I think you will find this difficult to turn down. In exchange for an approximately daily article (with specific frequency subject to negotiation) addressing subjects similar to your Washington Post White House Watch column, we are prepared to offer the following:

– Complete editorial independence. We will never spike your column, or pressure you into reducing your criticism of anyone, particularly the media establishment.

– Guaranteed front page status. Your columns will appear at the very top of our online publication within seconds of your submission.

– Editorial influence over our highly selective group of internet journalist partners list. You may designate at least four, possibly more, of your preferred online journalistic “fellow travelers” to be highlighted as a partner, or “blogroll link,” on the prestigious Crossed Pond list.

– Category selection. You will have complete independence in selecting your categories, or tags, for your article submissions.

– Research assistance. Our interactive TCP group is standing by to provide some kind of response to any areas for which you seek assistance. This is particularly useful if you are looking for a particularly sarcastic answer.

– I invite my fellow TCP staff members, as well as our extensive readership, to highlight or recommend other staff benefits.

I think you will agree this is a rather extraordinary, perhaps even once in a lifetime, opportunity. We can discuss the details, such as monetary compensation, at a later date. As a show of mutual good faith, I invite you to submit an (original) sample article to us at your convenience, primarily to demonstrate our willingness to publish you work immediately and without editorial interference. I hope you will take the time to consider our generous offer, and respond to our Journalistic Integrity Recruitment Group at thecrossedpond “at” gmail.com I hope that the much anticipated announcement of your future plans on White House Watch will conclude with a triumphant “Read my latest at The Crossed Pond!

In professional admiration,

Jack
Corporate Excess Officer
The Crossed Pond

Posted by Brad @ 12:04 pm on June 26th 2009

Time for Specter to Start Sweating

Another poll, this one from Franklin and Marshall. The good news? Specter is +20 against Joe Sestak. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you see the actual numbers:

Specter 33
Sestak 13
Other 6
Undecided 48

Bearing in mind that Specter has about 100% name ID in the state and is the highest profile convert to the party in perhaps the highest profile race for next cycle. And only a third of Democratic voters are willing to back him.

Worse yet are the internals. His approval ratings in the state, since March, have gone from 52% to 34%. His favorability ratings have swung a net 30%. Only 28% of voters believe he “deserves to be reelected”; 57% say it’s time for someone new.

If Smokin’ Joe can raise some early money, he may well smoke Specter.

Posted by Rojas @ 6:34 pm on June 25th 2009

Michael Jackson dead at 50

The first album I owned, as an eleven year old, was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I am not convinced that I have ever owned a better one.

I don’t know that anyone born after 1975 can have any idea of just how big a star Michael Jackson was in his prime. In 1983 and 1984, MJ achieved a level of celebrity that might be unequalled by any other entertainer in the history of the planet. Perhaps you could make a case for Michael Jordan at his absolute peak, or maybe Sinatra or Elvis at theirs.

At that time, Jackson was not yet a freak. He was eccentric, true; he had the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to sleep in and a Chimpanzee named Bubbles. What he also had was a once-in-a-generation combination of singing, writing, and dancing talent, backed up by the man I still consider to be the best pure producer in rock history, Quincy Jones. And so, a man who craved privacy more than anything else launched himself to a level of stardom that made that privacy impossible. He became inescapable at a time when he himself desperately desired to escape.

It broke him, of course. Shattered his psyche at a fundamental level; rendered the man who was once the most adulated man on the planet to a spectacle of public ridicule; more or less destroyed the quality of his work. There are, weirdly, some parallels between the careers of Michael Jackson and Hunter S. Thompson. Both were incandescent, unstoppable forces in their genres, but neither was anywhere near prepared to handle the success that they were certain to attain.

It’s a damn shame. But I suspect that the memory of the young Jackson, carrying forward the best traditions of Motown, will remain after the freak has faded. RIP.

Posted by Brad @ 12:56 pm on June 25th 2009

Quote of the Day

Grover Norquist, on the Mark Sanford scandal:

“It does indicate that men who oppose federal spending at the local level are irresistible to women.”

Well played, sir. Well played.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:05 pm on June 24th 2009

In case you missed it this afternoon…

…you might want to check out the US Men’s National Soccer team replay on ESPN2, right now (11 PM EST). They’re playing Spain, the number one team in the world, European champions with a world record 35-game unbeaten streak, in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup.

Might be worth watching. You never know. :D

Posted by Jack @ 9:06 pm on June 24th 2009

RedState Reaction to the Sanford Affair

In my limited contribution to TCP, I am freqently tempted to go the Sadly, No route and snag the low hanging fruit from ridiculously hackish right wing sites for an enthusiastic fisking. I have, for the most part, resisted this impulse. But few sites are more indicative of the death spiral of modern movement conservatism than RedState.com, and I am compelled to select something recent as a mark of how far they have fallen. Once, I read RedState regularly to keep my finger on mainstream conservative thought, but now, they are but a half step up from freeper-land. Witness the strained reaction to the Sanford affair. Yesterday, RedState.com’s lead blogger, the ever irrational Erick “the Erick” Erickson aggressively defended a perfectly reasonable hiking trip by the now disgraced South Carolina governor from the dreaded liberal media’s unwarranted attacks:

First, we need to be clear on the facts, not the media speculation:

– Sanford did tell his staff and family where he was going.
– Because he was traveling without a security detail, it was in his best interests that no one knew he was gone.
– His political enemies, Republicans at that, ginned up the media story.
– When confronted by a pestering media, things went downhill.
– Again though, at all times there was no doubt that Sanford’s staff and family knew where he was.

And today:

Well, what I wrote yesterday was wrong. Sanford’s lies spread through his office and out to the rest of us.

The left is linking to yesterday’s post to laugh at it. What they are missing is that most of us tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, even people like John Edwards.

Ah (incomplete) self awareness. Let me assure you that “the left” is not alone in laughing at you; I think the center is pretty freaking amused as well. The morose, hurtful tone of this is just pitiful. Erick, you deserve to be laughed at for your obviously partisan defense of Sanford’s disappearance, and you deserve further riducule for you suggestion that your side gives people the benefit of the doubt. There are few more clealry partisan hacks in the blogosphere than Erick Erickson, I know, I get RedState’s consistantly overwrought, distortive, hacktastic email alerts. So get real.

Later..

We have each other. I’m off in a bit to hang out with friends from my Bible Study. Sanford probably has none of that. I’m sure John Edwards did not. Nor Bill Clinton. Nor John Ensign.

You could not possibly be both one of the most popular conservative bloggers on the internet AND one of the least aware of the facts surrounding this issue, could you? Is it possible that you are not aware of Sanford and Ensign’s C Street Group? You know, the bible study group? Like the one to which you are headed? OK, maybe that is too recently in the headlines, but surely you have heard of Senator Ensign’s participation in Promise Keepers? It seems to me that Senator Ensign had exactly what you are talking about: a religiously based support group complete with close knit male friends, which worked out fine until he started fucking one of their wives. So to sum up: This paragraph of yours? Utter bullshit on every level.

What Mark Sanford did was wrong. He needs to go in a dark hole somewhere where no one can see him or hear him and rehabilitate himself. On the bright side, I doubt his indiscretions will affect the FisCon movement. The left is going to spend the next week making Sanford into the second coming of James Dobson to smear real marriage advocates and social conservatives’ positions Sanford was rarely vocal on.

Well, I’m not sure what fucked up rehabilitory theory Erickson supports, but isolated dark holes seems a bit in conflict with his previously stated affection for bible study groups, but that is a minor point. I admire the speed and audacity with which Mark Sanford has been declared not a Real True Christian.

But Erick Erickson’s reaction pales in comparison to the childish ranting from his coblogger, E Pluribus Unum, in the very next post down:

By all means report the facts. I’m sure you’ll be happy to cover every salacious detail. Have at it. Be sure to cover the pain and suffering of Governor Sanford’s family. While you are at it, cover the depth to which all South Carolina and nation-wide Republicans and conservatives rightly feel betrayed.

Beyond that, just shut up. Shut your lying, hypocritical, power-above-patriotism, hyper-partisan, two-faced, shamelessly double-standard bearing pie hole.

You don’t get to judge.

The Library of Congress could hardly contain chapter and verse of the multitudes of ways the press and the other Democrats have gotten away with judging Republicans by wholly different standards than that applied to Democrats. But that double standard is both obvious and as wide as the Grand Canyon. You show no honor, no equity, no fairness, and no scruples yourselves. You, to put it mildly, do not police your own.

We do. We’ll deal with Sanford. We have standards (you don’t), and we have a long history of punishing and purging our leaders who prove unworthy of trust. For your part, serial adulterer Bill Clinton remains a rock star as far as you are concerned, and that about sums up the standards to which Democrats hold themselves..

So, spare us your mock outrage, your tut-tutting, your finger-wagging, your eyebrows furrowed in anger. If you are well and truly outraged by Mark Sanford’s adultery, but could not trouble yourself to muster even a little mild disapproval against the cretin who wiped his feet with the honor of the office of President of the United States, then you are a hypocrite yourself of the lowest stripe. You are unworthy to judge.

So just shut up.

And how is this post tagged? First: Lying democrats. Second: Lying media.

Classy. In other news, I think E Pluribus’ mom cancelled his World of Warcraft account.

Posted by Brad @ 4:06 pm on June 24th 2009

Sanford

I’ve been following with some amusement the whole “Where in the World is Mark Sanford?” saga, and as a person prone to disappearing along similar lines for what I presumed to be similar reasons (a desire to just escape for a bit), I could kind of respect it. But, it’s been funny to watch the saga unfold, as his staffers tripped over themselves trying to snow the press, his wife had no idea what was going on, and then a reporter bumped into him at the airport. Last word: he had been in Argentina.

The new word, with his press conference last hour, is less funny. Another extra-marital affair downs another rising star of the GOP, as Sanford admits that he was indeed on a secret tryst to meet a Argentinian lover, which some in the press had chuckled about the possibility of but I don’t think anybody actually believed.

Now, an affair is one thing. An affair, if you’re a Republican already very unpopular with your state’s GOP is another. And an affair where you literally disappear for days on end, with your staff and your wife not knowing where you are, and taking all executive authority with you (he reportedly hates his Lt. Gov. with a passion, and near as I can figure the feeling is mutual), is quite another. Ensign might be able to survive his affair. Sanford, given that there is a very real governance issue here as well, may well not.

Regardless, he’s pretty much out for 2012 and anytime after, which is too bad, as he had staked a pretty good niche in the fiscal conservatism / libertarianism side of the things and probably would have gotten a lot of support and, at the very least, would have given the party somewhere to go and gone a long way to firing up a genuine oppositional instinct to Obama and the Democratic dominance. And with Sanford gone, Ensign, Huntsman, Palin having more or less descended into pure tabloidism, Huckabee having gone all Ralph Reed, Jindal thoroughly unimpressing everybody, and McCain not doing himself any favors lately, the party looks more rudderless and hopeless than ever. I mean seriously, about the best the party can hope for anymore is having Romney in 2012 lose miserably but not look too bad doing it (and, as a sidebar, I don’t think a Republican primary voter could be blamed at this point for hoping to offer up Ron Paul instead. I mean at least then you have somewhere to go and some ground to blaze (cue Adam’s joke here)). Other than that…yeesh.

Posted by Brad @ 2:21 pm on June 24th 2009

Tortured Logic

An otherwise smart man gets caught saying something true.

Greenwald’s analysis is impeccable, but for punch, I’m going to quote the Fark headline.

Obama: “The images of abuse coming out of Iran are important to sensitize us to violence we would otherwise abstractly dismiss.” Reporter: “So you will release US torture photos?” Obama: “LOLWUT?”

Posted by Brad @ 11:57 am on June 22nd 2009

Music Video of the Week

I love me some Mos Def. From Letterman last week.

Mos Def – Quiet Dog

Posted by James @ 6:16 pm on June 21st 2009

“Hi, I’m a PC.”

Chuckle of the day.

Posted by Jerrod @ 8:17 am on June 21st 2009

A few thousand more words on Iran

Three incredible photo essays of the Iranian election and aftermath. Each photo below is from a different essay and is clickable to the rest of the series.



Via The Boston Globe:

Posted by Jerrod @ 8:02 am on June 21st 2009

Perhaps ROI isn’t the only metric that matters

I’ve been a big fan of Lessig and concerned about the issues associated with copyright policy since his 2002 OSCON talk. Lessig has long fought against the perversion of policy by content producers via copyright legislation and has done a tremendous job of both illustrating why copyright policy matters in the digital information age as well as why it should matter for the sake of our nation and its future. His approach is fully in line with the intentions of the Framers (copyright is needed to encourage and protect innovation).

But after fighting this fight, he realized that things wouldn’t change until the corruption in Congress was resolved. He’s part of an organization trying to Change Congress and there are plenty of his speeches and presentations available online.

What caught my eye in this latest presentation was his reference to research indicating that companies recoup 22,000% return on investment for money invested in lobbying congress. That’s phenomenal. I’d like to think that everyone who reads and posts on this blog is aware of this corruption (and as Lessig points out it isn’t straight up corruption as much as its “good souls corruption”) and that those who are aware want it changed.

Everyone knows how much money it costs to run an election (and of course, a re-election). Without major donors, you aren’t getting into office, period. Are we foolish enough to believe that companies give hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions simply out of civic duty? Why would they just give this money away unless there was some R.O.I.? As we see, it’s right there in the legislation that gets passed in their favor.

I’m hoping that the current economic troubles put enough pressure on the finances of companies that they can’t afford to keep gaming the system but with a 22,000% ROI sitting there, I’m not hopeful. I am hopeful that Lessig and his cohorts are successful in getting the Trustworthy Government Now Act passed.

Posted by Brad @ 2:56 pm on June 19th 2009

Tweet Q & A of the Day

I’m unexpectedly traveling a lot for the next few days, so only light blogging. But this Tweet Q & A from Marc Ambinder was interesting, and easy to miss, so I wanted to pass it along.

@jbennet: asks: “Who does Obama really listen to on foreign policy? Put differently — who’s running foreign policy?”

@marcambinder: I’ll get in trouble, but, in rough order: Gates, Biden, Axelrod/Rahm, Rice, Jones, Clinton, Petraeus, Kerry, Lugar, McDonough, Rhodes, Sutphen, Flournoy

Posted by Brad @ 2:35 pm on June 19th 2009

The Ensign Affair

If you’re interested, a lot more has been coming out about the story. Bottom line: Ensign’s pretty much a scumbag, and instead of a “lapse” or an “indiscretion”, the whole thing looks pretty sordid and Ensign appears to have been very active in his homewrecking (it sort of reminds me of the court of Henry VIII). He resigned his political leadership posts within the Republican party, and I figured that would probably be it. But after the tap dancing of the last few days—claiming the husband tried to blackmail him, then evidence that the husband tipped off Fox News, then that Fox News tipped off Ensign, then a bunch of stuff about Ensign finding work for his girlfriend’s husband—he may not have just lost his rising star status, but he may be a man to actively avoid if you’re a Republican. Between Gifford and this, the Republican party in Nevada is probably not a very fun organization to belong to at the moment. Nevada remains a swing state, and the GOP grassroots have had high hopes for trying to pick off Harry Reid. And, of course, this complicates both.

Posted by Brad @ 2:34 pm on June 18th 2009

Soft Power

Two brief bits via Sully, but first, a corollary reminiscence.

I remember being barely a teenager when Desert Storm broke out in 1991, and while the whole scud-missile and tracer lights thing is the standard imagistic totem from that conflict, for me the image burned indelibly onto my brain is that of our army crossing the desert towards their army, and then their army just stopping, laying down their weapons, and putting their hands on their heads and surrendering (this “image” is admittedly an amalgamation), not just without a shot fired, but almost as if they had been anxiously and happily waiting for the opportunity to do so. A stream of men waving white flags crossing the desert to be processed, their tanks and weapons and even uniforms strewn about behind them, left in the desert.

A huge part of that was just that we have the best military in the world, and it would have been suicide to fight against it. But I believe the key point was the widespread belief, in the Iraqi soldier’s heart of hearts, that America really was an idealistic place, land of the free and all that. They surely would not have reacted that way against, say, Iran. But there was a persistent belief, despite years of propaganda, programming, and training, that to be free in Saddam’s Iraq was more dangerous and less desirable than to be in the custody of the United States. And they were right.

One of the things I don’t think neoconservative hawks of the Donald Rumsfeld variety understand is the power of that. To them, I imagine, they would look at that same memory I just described and conclude only weakness, weakness on the part of the Iraqi military, and an inability of anybody to stand up to America, the shockingist and aweingest military force on the planet. They would view it almost as an open invitation to use force liberally, because our power was so self-evident that even a hostile nation’s military will flat-out refuse to even try to fight back. I believe that that lesson was part of what shaped their thinking for the first Bush term. And, of course, they then got a perfect set of laboratories to put their interpretation of things to the test, and we all know how that’s gone.

But for me, that lesson underscored a totally different kind of power. Even to those pledged to hate us, the lure of America’s mythology (which isn’t always or even often just a mythology) is ever-present, and put to the real test, all but the most radicalized succumb to it. “Death to America” and all that is easy enough to say in a crowd of protesters burning a flag, but when it’s an American tank rolling up, do you believe that enough are are passionate about it enough to die for it? For Desert Storm, of course, we got our answer (as we did, largely, for the first phase of Gulf War II and Afghanistan). What changed then? Why did those conflicts go so sour, and why did suddenly legions of paens decide to change their answer? It was not because we appeared weaker, I don’t believe, that our military force started to look less mighty, though clearly that’s an element in the mix too. But I believe the controlling factor is we decided to dash our own greatest weapon.

And, of course, this is one of the reasons I find myself so thoroughly outraged at torture and our detention policy, our almost casual use of force, our desire to occupy. It’s not just for purely moral reasons, but almost as importantly for strategic ones. We could not have a 1991-style invasion in the Middle East in this day and age. Because the math, for the enemy combatants, has changed. Not only can they now be reasonably sure, or at least find precedent, in the thought that America has come to invade and occupy rather than free and leave (and even I couldn’t tell you when that invisible line was crossed, though my suspicion is that it happened as much with our rhetoric as with our staying past any arbitrary deadline), but when they make that comparison, whether being free in Saddam’s Iraq (or insert totalitarian arab regime here) was more dangerous and less desirable than to be in the custody of the United States, the answer is not necessarily in our favor anymore. It is a much harder question.

I wrote yesterday, as I did often during the campaign, about the fundamental differences in approach between a United States governed by a guy like Barack Obama (or analogue) and a United States governed by a guy like John McCain (or analogue). This is not a “gotchya” post, nor do I have much interest in rehashing campaign arguments, but I bring it up again because the issues that I was talking about were much larger than the campaign then, and are still around today, and in Iran we have a very interesting if indirect test case for that. Namely, the dominoing force of American soft power and our moral legitimacy, and by extension, the moral legitimacy of Western conceptions of freedom and democracy. Ultimately, the mainstreams of all sides in that domestic political debate, between the neoconservatives and American Greatness Republicans, and the liberal doves and Democratic reactionary pragmatists, and the Ron Paulian non-interventionists, all want the same thing. A world wherein peace, prosperity, democracy, and freedom spreads. But the differences between them in how to get from Point A to that Point B could not be starker.

I believe, as I said yesterday, that the present events in Iran would have looked markedly different had the constellation of factors present in the world today been different, chief among those factors being a President who has done a great deal already to curry soft power in the arab and muslim worlds, the very fact of his story, his campaign, and his election, his pragmatism and reactive non-involvement, and simply the fact that he decided to step out of the “us vs. them” paradigm that had been so dominant in the Bush years and would have likely remained so in the McCain years. Our domestic politics certainly did not create the events in Iran—the Iranians (on both sides) have done a very good job of that themselves—but it did, to some extent, lay the groundwork of conditions for things to play out in Iran as they have (as, again, I mentioned in my comment yesterday). What’s more, the fact that we have, once again, some soft power credibility opens up our toolbox moving forward in a way that would have looked very different had we chosen to pursue the path of democratization at the barrel of a pistol.

I say all that to pass along two interesting bits, via Sully, that, in very small ways, play into this theory.

The first is simply a quote from Julian Sanchez:

[P]erhaps the administration is finding subtle ways to support democratic openness without a lot of counterproductive bluster that would conjure bad memories of U.S. interference in other countries’ choice of leaders. They’d probably have more instruments for gentle pressure if we weren’t already totally disengaged from Iran—the trouble with making a big show of utterly shunning bad regimes is that you’ve got nowhere to go when there’s a propitious occasion to give them a nudge in a healthier direction—but for all we know they’re doing other similarly subtle, unobtrusive stuff behind the scenes. It’s almost as if they’re more concerned with what actually contributes to human rights in Iran than with what provides the best fap-fodder for hawks at home. Crazy.

The second is just an item of pure speculation, but an interesting one. Foreign Policy’s blog quotes an article from CQ:

What should the CIA do?

Keep its distance, say covert action veterans.

“If an American hand is exposed — and the regime is working diligently to find one — all the elements now protesting the elections will be tarred and discredited as CIA stooges,” says one well placed source, who declined to be identified because of the situation’s volatility.

Unlike in Poland, where the Catholic church gave the CIA, working with the Vatican, a vehicle to undermine the communist regime, the spy agency has no equivalent infrastructure in Iran, one former spook pointed out Small, fragile human rights activists are no match for the ubiquitous Iranian secret police.

Does that mean the CIA is impotent to affect events there?

No, the covert action veterans say: Iran’s political crisis provides the CIA with an opportunity to provoke the defection of Iranian military, intelligence and diplomatic representatives abroad.

(After the Soviet Union crushed the “Prague Spring” in 1968, Czech officials defected in droves to the CIA.)

How it handles a similar scenario now, and the possible windfall of inside information on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear program, will be far more beneficial than clumsy attempts to manipulate the protests sweeping Tehran.

So, in some ways, maybe the situation in Iran will turn out something like Gulf War One, as dissidents and reformists, even if they’re put down, are empowered in some small way by key United States actions or inactions into believing that there is more to fight than just the United States. That this is a pretty nebulous possibility doesn’t make it any less real. And, in a way, an interesting way to jiu-jitsu the ill-will and not entirely unfounded animosity and radicalization that occurred as a reaction to the Bush years. Totalitarian states have beefed themselves up under the rubric of fighting the Great Satan, and when the Great Satan suddenly doesn’t look so Great or Satanic, and quietly fades into the background, those countries are left with perhaps more repression, militarism, and theocracy than their citizenries are otherwise comfortable with as the perceived imminent threat suddenly looks less imminent and less threatening and the masses realize they have a lot more problems at home that need attention than the American bugbear half a world away.

Which, now that I think about it, is an interesting mirror to how our own citizenry reacted to the Bush years. But maybe I ought to just leave that thought hanging and end the post here.

Posted by Jack @ 9:02 pm on June 17th 2009

Rasmussen Poll gives Specter 19 point lead on Sestak

The poll summary, and the questions and toplines.

Specter 51, Sestak 32 in this recent phone poll, which is about what we should expect at this point given Sestak’s low name recognition. The biggest surprise seems to be Specter’s favorable rating of 72%, much higher than I would have guessed.

Sestak’s latest fundraising email strikes me as hedging, in that he implies (or perhaps I just infer?) that he has not entirely made up his mind to run, and it depends on, you guessed it, fundraising success:

Dear Jack,

I did mention that we are still on a first name basis, right?

We have a big decision coming up, and an important help in the success of that decision is what you do right now.

What other decision could he be talking about? And then he transitions into the “the establishment won’t tell us how to vote” meme:

Pennsylvania Democrats should not be told who to vote for — they should get a say in choosing their nominee for U.S. Senate, not the Washington establishment. I’d like to give Pennsylvanians that opportunity!

I think Sestak will make this a staple of his campaign, he certainly hits it pretty hard in the letter:

Are we Pennsylvania Democrats, now struggling every day to survive the legacy of the Bush Administration, being told that we have to sit these fights out because the Washington establishment has chosen to annoint a nominee who consistently voted for, and supported, the Bush policies? That our interests are best represented by an individual who was registered with, and who for fought for, the Republican Party and its principles the past 45 years, including the last 8 years of the Bush Presidency? That we have no choice who gets to speak for us … or who we are to vote for?

But that’s exactly what the Washington establishment is telling us Pennsylvanians.

This is probably a reasonable item with which to beat Specter during the primary, but I suspect it will become hollow pretty fast. If Sestak can clear some early fundraising hurdles I think the Washington establishment will stay clear of the race. Those that actually do want to support Specter for coming over to the Democratic Party will recognize that overt support for the former Republican could result in a backlash and give this “don’t tell us who to vote for” concept real legs and resonance. And plenty of party establishment Dems would be perfectly happy to see a “real” Democrat win.

Posted by Brad @ 1:56 pm on June 17th 2009

A Thousand Words (and about a hundred thousand silent protesters)

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