Wednesday, February 28, 2007

And Still, We Wait

Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Today's clock is a Chinese water tower. Apparently, these were all the rage in the 11th Century:

One of the most elaborate clock towers was built by Su Sung and his associates in 1088 CE. Su Sung's mechanism incorporated a water-driven escapement invented about 725 CE. The Su Sung clock tower, over 30 feet tall, possessed a bronze power-driven armillary sphere for observations, an automatically rotating celestial globe, and five front panels with doors that permitted the viewing of changing manikins which rang bells or gongs, and held tablets indicating the hour or other special times of the day.

NIST: Early Clocks

And I thought GPS was complicated ...

As of noon Eastern time (9:00 AM Pacific), there is still no verdict in the Libby case. emptywheel and Jane Hamsher are on Libby watch this morning at Firedoglake. Apparently, there's been a question from the jury, and the lawyers have been arguing about it all morning. According to Jane, it's something to do with the count having to do with the Cooper false statements charge, and it's settled now. Check in there for the latest news on the trial, and other diversions.

If you get tired of that, go read Eric Boehlert's article on The Washington Post's crush on right-wing bloggers. Because that "liberal media" meme just never gets old, know what I mean? Some jokes are like that. I really like the eye-poke one.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Waiting

image credit: Heidi Viredaz-Bader

Believe it or not, that's a clock:

Another clock with a thermic motor is the PUJA made by Karl Jauch, Schwenningen, Black Forest. It is constituted by two pairs of tubes containing alcool. One of these tubes is heated from the bottom so that the alcool flows into the upper tube outside the gravity center and the system starts turning, winding up the spring of a traditional mechanical movement.

Antique Electric Clocks (By Michel Viredaz)

As emptywheel notes, we're still waiting for a verdict in the Libby case. Larry Johnson's battle to make the Washington Post a responsible newspaper on the Libby trial has been joined by Jim Marcinkowski today. It's not going to change them, I'm sure. They're owned too thoroughly by the right to ever be serious commentators, but pointing out their irresponsibility might eventually change their readers' minds.

Meanwhile, Christy has more bad news about what we're doing in and around Iran. Looks like Condoleeza Rice, the closest thing to an adult in the Bush Administration's foreign policy team, is on the outside now. This is based on a Time magazine announcement regarding Seymour Hersh's latest article about Iran, which is a must-read. The Times UK is reporting that our generals may start quitting if there's an attack on Iran:

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

US generals ‘will quit’ if Bush orders Iran attack

Taylor gives us the bad news about Iraq, and notes that Americans are getting impatient. Apparently, the Democratic leadership in the Senate thinks it's OK to pass on the Iraq issue, so they can concentrate on things that aren't time critical right now. You read that right, and I wrote it correctly. Thanks to "Give Em The Appearance of Hell" Harry, it's starting to look like we're in for another year or two of Iraq before Congress gets serious about doing anything. Like I keep saying, if you don't like it, you know whose country it is, and to whom you should complain.

Want good news? Sorry, fresh out today.

UPDATE: Thanks to Juan Cole, here's some good news. The governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington have signed an agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Governors from five Western states agreed Monday to work together to reduce greenhouse gases, saying their region has suffered some of the worst of global warming with recent droughts and bad fire seasons.

The governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington state agreed that they would develop a regional target to lower greenhouse gases and create a program aimed at helping businesses reach the still-undecided goals.

"In the absence of meaningful federal action, it is up to the states to take action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat. "Western states are being particularly hard-hit by the effects of climate change."

[Five] Governors Agree to Work on Climate

Gannett adds:

The agreement by the Western governors is similar to an initiative by nine Northeastern states to reduce carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system.

[Five] governors agree to fight greenhouse gases

As you might expect, Wikipedia has an entry on the subject of emissions trading, which contrary to what the Bush Administration thinks is not a drinking game. The idea is that polluters can trade emissions credits so that the companies that emit less can sell to companies that emit more than the allowed amount. This creates a market incentive to prevent pollution, particularly since in some plans non-polluters may also buy up the credits and "retire" them, making the average pollution lower. Read the Wikipedia article if that doesn't make sense to you.

Except for Schwarzenegger, widely viewed as a moderate Republican, all the governors are Democrats.

UPDATE 2: According to Christy at FDL, the jury has gone home for the day. Looks like I'll have to find another clock image tomorrow.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Best Wishes, Steve

Steve Gilliard, who blogs at The NewsBlog, is apparently going to undergo a round of surgery. Please check his blog for the details, I don't want to inadvertently create a false impression about what's going on. Jen, his blogging partner, keeps us as up to date as she can.

Steve's has been a wise and passionate voice out here on the Internet, and we'll miss him while he's away.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Still Waiting ...

image credit: John Pritchett

The jury in the Libby trial is still deliberating. Looks like it's going to be a long one, so get out your sunblock.

Meanwhile, there are actually things going on in the world that aren't related to living or dead celebrity bimbos. No, I'm not going to provide links. If you want that kind of news, go to CNN or MSNBC. Isn't the twenty-four hour news cycle just wonderful? You can always be informed about all those important developments that affect your life, no matter what time of day you turn on the TV.

Juan Cole writes today in Salon that the British withdrawal from Iraq may not be quite the good thing the Administration is protraying it as. As Prof. Cole points out, Patrick Lang doesn't think so, either. Meanwhile, some Democratic Senators are supposedly drafting a bill that would limit our role in the conflict. If you've read some of my past writings you'll know I don't think it's enough, but it's at least a start, and it is trying to keep us out of the civil war.

Meanwhile, in that forgotten war, Afghan warlords have, it would seem, been busy trying to obtain pardons of their own. The BBC's Lyse Doucet writes about the situation there:

Afghans have, in some ways, made an impressive journey since a hastily assembled group of Afghans and foreign envoys forged what became known as the Bonn process.

With some difficulty and delay all the ambitious targets were met: a traditional assembly, or loya jirga, approved a new government in 2002; a second loya jirga came up with a constitution; and presidential and parliamentary elections were held for the first time in decades.

But for many Afghans it is a job half done.
Afghanistan is still a place awash with guns, where commanders and local officials can impose their will with impunity, where many Afghans say their lives have changed little.

Most startling of all, the Taleban have made a comeback in the south, fighting with unexpected ferocity and firepower.

Afghanistan: A job half done

The only good news I see this morning is that the North Koreans are talking about dismantling their nuke program. Like the Democrats in the Senate, the North Koreans are going to have to do more than talk to convince me, but it's a good sign given that they're willing to negotiate giving up their ability to reprocess plutonium in exchange for oil and food. Of course, that was such a bad deal in 1994, how could this "tough" Administration make the same deal now?

Tom Vilsack has dropped out of the Presidential race, citing lack of financial backing. Other than that he was the chairman of the DLC and that he was one of the first Presidential candidates to speak out forcefully on Iraq, I don't know much about him.

And I hear Britney's got a new doo?

UPDATE: It looks like the British will be increasing their forces in Afghanistan soon.

UPDATE 2: Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake reports that the Libby jury has been sent home for the weekend. Looks like justice will have to wait until next week, if not longer.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Waiting ...

image credit: U.S. Naval Observatory

So, I told Google, "find me a cool clock image", and this is what it came up with. It's a Hewlett-Packard 5701A cesium clock, one of the best. The article I, ahem, borrowed it from has this to say:

USNO Cesium Clocks

Most of the Observatory's cesium clocks are model HP5071A, made by Agilent Technologies, Inc. of Santa Clara, California. With an improved cesium tube and new microprocessor- controlled servo loops, the 5071A vastly outperforms the earlier 5061 cesium frequency standards. The Naval Observatory 5071A's feature HP's optional high-performance cesium beam tube, with accuracy 1 part in 10E12, frequency stability 8 parts in 10 to the 14th, and a time domain stability of < 2 parts in 10 to the 14th with an averaging time of 5 days. Other companies that produce cesium clocks include Datum, Inc. of Beverly, MA and Frequency Electronics, Inc. of Uniondale, NY.

Cesium Atoms at Work

It's your tax dollars at work, and working pretty well, I might add.

Meanwhile, the defense and prosecution have made their closing arguments in the Libby case, and it's been given to the jury now. There's nothing to do now but wait for the verdict. Considering that it took more than a day for the two sides to make their closing arguments, I'm not expecting to hear anything soon. It's hard to wait when there's so much riding on a case, but that's how it has to be. There's a lot of information that the jurors need to discuss and absorb.

You could pass some time by reading T-Rex's response to the Gary Kamiya article I mentioned yesterday. You may notice some similarity in his remarks to something I wrote last week, but T-Rex is much, much funnier. You could also get caught up on who George W. Bush reminds himself of on this President's Day.

There are, of course, people who have things to do that don't involve waiting around for some former Admnistration scumbag to finally encounter the bad karma he's been building up all this time, and I'm going to do my best to imitate them today. Try to enjoy the day.

UPDATE: Dan Froomkin thinks that there might be some bad karma headed Dick Cheney's way, courtesy of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald:

Fitzgerald has long maintained that Libby's testimony to investigators -- that all he had done was pass along unsubstantiated gossip about Plame that he had heard from NBC Washington bureau chief Russert -- was a pure fabrication.

But yesterday, he called the jurors' attention to the fact that before telling that story to investigators in October 2003, Libby had only shared it with one person: Cheney, who also happened to be the person from whom Libby first learned about Plame, fully a month before the conversation with Russert.

"What's the one thing he tells one person in the fall of 2003?" Fitzgerald asked. "He goes and tells the person who told him" about Plame this story he had made up.

"Think about that," Fitzgerald said momentously, in an obvious attempt to get the jury -- and quite possibly, a wider audience -- to consider that Libby and Cheney may have been agreeing on a cover story at the time.

That, by the way, was precisely the possibility suggested by Murray Waas, in a particularly prescient piece for the National Journal on Sunday. Waas also quoted sources as saying that if Libby is found guilty, the prosecution may pursue Cheney -- presumably by trying one more time to "flip" Libby and turn him into a prosecution witness.

The Cloud Over Cheney

If that Waas article looks familiar, it might be because I pointed to it a couple of days ago in Scooter's Gonna Skate. I still think there's going to be a pardon for Libby, and Froomkin's reminding us why.

UPDATE 2: Reportedly, the Libby trial jury have adjourned for the evening.

UPDATE 3: The AP says so, so it must be true.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Washington And The Hessians

An absurd study in contrasts courtesy The New York Times

Colorado Bob inspired the start of this essay, and President George W. Bush inspired the latter part. Let's see how those two parts fit together, shall we? Colorado Bob wrote a comment to a previous article mentioning NPR's Robert Krulwich discussing the story of George Washington deciding to spare his army's Hessian prisoners after the British murdered captured American soldiers brutally. This reminded me of a comment I'd posted at Firedoglake right after the Military Commissions Act was passed. The MCA is also known as The Torture Act of 2006, President Bush's "get out of jail free" card, and the lowest point in Congressional history since Preston Brookes beat the snot out of Charles Sumner on the floor of the Senate for denouncing slavery. That was in May, 1856, by the way. Senator Hillary Clinton made a speech against the MCA that recalled that decision of Washington's so long ago:

Here’s a part of Sen. Clinton’s speech on the Torture Act today:

During the Revolutionary War, between the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which set our founding ideals to paper, and the writing of our Constitution, which fortified those ideals under the rule of law, our values – our beliefs as Americans – were already being tested.

We were at war and victory was hardly assured, in fact the situation was closer to the opposite. New York City and Long Island had been captured. General George Washington and the continental army retreated across New Jersey to Pennsylvania, suffering tremendous casualties and a body blow to the cause of American Independence.

It was at this time, among these soldiers at this moment of defeat and despair, that Thomas Paine would write, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Soon afterward, Washington led his soldiers across the Delaware River and onto victory in the Battle of Trenton. There he captured nearly 1000 foreign mercenaries and he faced a crucial choice.

How would General Washington treat these men? The British had already committed atrocities against Americans, including torture. As David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Washington’s Crossing,” thousands of American prisoners of war were “treated with extreme cruelty by British captors.” There are accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered instead of quartered. Countless Americans dying in prison hulks in New York harbor. Starvation and other acts of inhumanity perpetrated against Americans confined to churches in New York City.

The light of our ideals shone dimly in those early dark days, years from an end to the conflict, years before our improbable triumph and the birth of our democracy. General Washington wasn’t that far from where the Continental Congress had met and signed the Declaration of Independence. But it’s easy to imagine how far that must have seemed. General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners:“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren.”

Therefore, George Washington, our commander-in-chief before he was our President, laid down the indelible marker of our nation’s values even as we were struggling as a nation – and his courageous act reminds us that America was born out of faith in certain basic principles. In fact, it is these principles that made and still make our country exceptional and allow us to serve as an example. We are not bound together as a nation by bloodlines. We are not bound by ancient history; our nation is a new nation. Above all, we are bound by our values.

George Washington understood that how you treat enemy combatants could reverberate around the world. We must convict and punish the guilty in a way that reinforces their guilt before the world and does not undermine our constitutional values.

Many of the Hessians Washington spared that day later settled in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and became American citizens. The British, despite their cruelty and despite being one of the world’s preeminent military powers, were not able to persuade enough of the rebels to give up in order to defeat the rest. Five years later, they were gone.

Both parties should be thoroughly ashamed of their collective actions today. Individuals may be able to take some comfort in doing the right thing, but as parties they’ve disgraced themselves.

Oh, and Rep. Sherrod “I’ll stand up to my party when I think they’re wrong” Brown can eat my shorts.

Comment by Cujo359 to Firedoglake article "Good Times"

As you may be able to tell from some of my writing, I'm no fan of Senator Clinton's. But she stood up and did the right thing that day by opposing and speaking against this heinous, cowardly act. The aptly surnamed Sherrod Brown, now a Senator, voted in favor, and pissed on his own supporters while doing it. Personally, I have no use for the man. He apparently can't remember the oath he took when he became a congressman.

Roughly one out of four Hessians stayed in America after the war, according to Krulwich's guest, Prof. Fisher, author of Washington's Crossing. Their descendants today probably number in the hundreds of thousands. The British empire prospered for a while longer, then finally collapsed, at least partly because Mahatma Ghandi made the British aware of the cruelty that had built it in the first place.

Washington's decision to spare the Hessians happened in the winter of 1777, the worst for the Continental Army. I'm not an expert on Washington by any means, but as a general, he didn't have a particularly good record. The only battles of any significance that I recall him winning were at Trenton and Yorktown. However, he did something much more important than winning. He kept his army together for five long, grass-eating, disease-ridden, and largely defeat-ridden years through winters with little in the way of shelter, and even though the army consisted entirely of volunteers signed up for only a few months at a time. Had they chosen to, I'm sure that many of his soldiers could have deserted with no danger of being caught - there wasn't even a true nation behind the army, just a group of local governments banded together loosely and at times not very comfortably. He kept that army together long enough to outlast the most powerful nation on earth at the time with only a small army and no real navy to speak of. That accomplishment, and the incident in question, speak volumes about Washington's courage, humanity, and wisdom.

On President's Day, 2007, George W. Bush decided to compare himself to George Washington. In keeping with its tradition of only putting the President in front of docile, hand-picked audiences, his handlers brought a busload of high school students from Georgetown. I cannot imagine a starker contrast between two men who have held the same job. Bush couldn't have lasted a week doing what Washington had to do. Washington held an army together with little more than his will. Bush, when confronted with his first real crisis, froze for several minutes, and could only rouse himself when his aides urged him to get back to his plane. He then invaded a country that wasn't even a threat to us, and destroyed it completely. He wouldn't even ask his rich buddies to pay more taxes to help the soldiers injured in that unnecessary war. When faced with a daunting task and the real threat of extinction for himself and his country, Washington chose to use humanity and honor as the way to victory. Bush whined about a problem that would barely have registered as a blip on Washington's trouble meter, claiming through his sycophants that it was an unprecedented threat of titanic proportions, and chose cruelty and mendacity as his chief weapons. Washington's defining character traits were courage, wisdom, and compassion. Bush's are fecklessness, laziness, and arrogance.

If Bush has even one tenth of the wisdom Washington had, he'll never bring up the subject again.

UPDATE: Michael J.W. Stickings has an interesting take on Bush's speech.

UPDATE: Gary Kamiya asks Is There Life After Bush? (subscription or watching an ad required). To which I reply "I certainly hope so".

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wolcott: Grime And Punishment

Today I added a "Blogs I Read" panel on the right hand side of the screen. Now, you should realize that doesn't mean I read them every day. To illustrate that point, here's James Wolcott's Feb. 11 column Grime and Punishment. I love this quote at the end, where he's talking about the series 24:

Not only am I not a torture junkie (the popularity on the right of 24's pulp fiction is proof that the real reason they approve of torture is not because it yields information and saves lives but because they vicariously enjoy the infliction of suffering--it's their favorite brand of porn), a prerequisite for being a regular viewer, but I'm not sure which is more cliched and ridiculous: the Intense Cell Phone Clamped to the Ear conversations or the Straight-Armed Double-Handgripped Gun-Pointing Commando stance; everyone's either barking into the cell or pointing their weapon at the nearest swarthy head and the throbbing doomsday urgency is unrelieved by a single grace note or stray glimpse of fugitive beauty in the post-industrial warehouse sprawl. Politically, aesthetically, 24 is for people who don't get enough fiber from eating the latest issue of Commentary and think acting consists entirely of grimacing.

I'm a fan of the show. The writing is taut, the acting is actually pretty good, and there's enough suspense and mystery to keep folks like me with short attention spans interested. It is, however, almost unreleavedly grim and often quite gruesome, and I can see the appeal Wolcott refers to.

Anyway, it's a little bit of genius, starting with the Grammy awards, moving through 20000 Leagues Under The Sea, thru to the grimly spirited mayhem of 24.

Scooter's Gonna Skate

Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby, the reprehensible little man who did whatever Vice President Cheney wanted him to do, is going to receive a pardon, guaranteed. The only thing that will stop the pardon is if the jury decides he's not guilty. The reason it's so obvious is former prosecutor Victoria Toensing's article on the Libby trial. That awful Patrick Fitzgerald, she is saying in essence, is picking on poor Scooter because he can't find anyone else to charge with a crime. Toensing's essay is a masterstroke of rhetorical fallacy and misinformation, and almost completely ignores what has actually been demonstrated in the trial. It's pretty clear that Libby lied multiple times during the investigation, and at least partly to obscure his own role in the exposing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent. The only hiccup I can see is that to convict Libby, the jury will have to place more trust in Tim Russert than I'd be inclined to do. Well, not really. They mostly have to trust him more than Scooter Libby, which I think I could manage.

If you're looking for serious rebuttal of the piece, I suggest you check out Jeralyn Merritt or Larry Johnson. Personally, I think "Are you freakin' kidding me?" is enough of a rebuttal, but much more is available if you disagree.

That Toensing is willing to write such nonsense tells me either that Toensing was exactly the person who should never have been given the power to prosecute crimes, or that she is just setting up Libby to be pardoned in case of a guilty verdict. After all, in a case where there is a clear motivation for the President to pardon someone, which is that he kept his mouth shut and didn't implicate his bosses, some other narrative needs to be used to cover up that motivation. The Bush Administration has shown that the only thing it's good at is convincing a certain segment of the public, we'll call it the lowest thirty percent, that they bear no responsibility for their screwups. The exposing of a covert CIA agent is, by any measure I can think of, a massive screwup for a government, particularly since none of the people involved have lost their jobs, or even their security clearances, without first being indicted. The Washington Post, where Toensing's article appeared, has been happy to carry the water for this administration, no matter how grievous the error they've committed, so even that part fits the pattern.

So, you read it here first. Well, probably not. This just occured to me in regard to Toensing's article. There are probably about a million other people who figured that out yesterday. But you can bet on it. The trick will be finding someone foolish enough to take that bet. I suppose you can find one if you ask enough people "do you think the Feds are picking on Scooter?" If the answer is yes, you may have found someone stupid enough.

By the way, looseheadprop has a great discussion of possible defense strategies up at Firedoglake. If you're a little behind on events in the Scooter trial, you might also want to check out this YouTube page, which contains many of the PoliticsTV videos of the ladies and Swopa discussing the case.

UPDATE: Murray Waas, probably the leading journalist on the Plame investigation, published a story today about what Libby told the Vice President at the time the Novak story broke:

At the time that Libby offered his explanation to Cheney, the vice president already had reason to know that Libby's account to him was untrue, according to sources familiar with still-secret grand jury testimony and evidence in the CIA leak probe, as well as testimony made public during Libby's trial over the past three weeks in federal court.

Yet, according to Libby's own grand jury testimony, which was made public during his trial in federal court, Cheney did nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI and the federal grand jury. Moreover, Cheney encouraged then-White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly defend Libby, according to other testimony and evidence made public during Libby's trial.

The Libby-Cheney Connection

If you're not all that familiar with the stories surrounding this case, read this article from beginning to end. It's an excellent overview of the major point of contention in the trial. It also helps paint a picture of the fecklessness with which Cheney and Libby handled the secret of Valerie Wilson's identity.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Less Than Nothing

In the end, the United States Senate, and thus the Congress, did even less than the nothing I figured they would accomplish in regards to Iraq. Today, the Senate refused to vote for cloture on a "sense of the Senate" resolution on Iraq, S.574. The vote, was 56-34 in favor of cloture, with 60 votes being required. The mathematicians among you will note that there were 10 no-shows for this vote. Here's a quick breakdown of the vote:

  • The "yea" votes consisted of all the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, and seven Republicans:

    Coleman (R-MN)
    Collins (R-ME)
    Hagel (R-NE)
    Smith (R-OR)
    Snowe (R-ME)
    Specter (R-PA)
    Warner (R-VA)

    So at least a few Republicans appear to have voted their conscience for once.

  • Joe Lieberman (I-CT), voted "nay" in keeping with his support for the war, which only wained while it appeared it would prevent his re-election last fall.

  • The no-shows included one Democrat, Tim Johnson of SD, and nine Republicans.

  • Among the Republican no-shows was John Ensign (R-NV), whose opponent in the last election was among the ones Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate majority leader, gave little real support in the last election. Together with the continued presence of Joe Lieberman, whose opponent Reid also refused to support, you can lay at least some of the blame for this defeat at Harry Reid's feet.

In fairness, Reid did force this vote on a Saturday before a holiday weekend. He risked honking some of the Senators off in order to get them on record. For that, he deserves credit.

Taylor Marsh has the video if you're masochistic enough to want to watch the instant replay. Taylor's discussion of the vote is a bit misleading, I think. The vote really was about ending debate and voting on the bill. To quote the Washington Post:

Senate Republicans today blocked a floor vote on a House-passed resolution that expresses disapproval of President Bush's plan to send thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq, as a procedural motion to cut off debate on the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed.

Senate Republicans Block Floor Vote on Iraq Resolution

In short, the Senate refused to vote on the bill. Taylor has the basics down, though. The Senate shrank from its responsibilities today.

What we, the American people who now overwhelmingly are opposed to the Iraq War, are left with is less than nothing. The Congress has once again abdicated its responsibility to end or at least curtail this folly. It would not even vote on a tepid resolution opposing the latest escalation by the President. Americans and Iraqis will continue to kill each other in a pointless struggle, because some members of the Senate would rather cower in a corner than do their jobs.

UPDATE: (Feb. 18) Glenn Greenwald highlights an interview of Lt. Gen. William Odom (ret.), a long-time critic of the Iraq War. Odom's been right on the money about what was going to happen in Iraq. I think it was almost two years ago now that he predicted that all we'd succeed in doing in Iraq was to more heavily arm all sides in the civil war that's going to come. This interview was conducted by clueless wingnut turned pundit Hugh Hewitt. This money quote came when Hewitt started to give him crap about his assertion that we should pull out of Iraq so we don't do any more damage:

HH: Did you see Cambodia coming, General?

WO: And following -- let me ask you. Are you enthusiastic enough to put on a uniform and go?

HH: No. I'm a civilian.

WO: Okay, but we can recruit you.

HH: I'm 51, General.

WO: And I don't see all these war hawks that want to -- none of them have been in a war, and they don't want to go.

Took the words right out of my mouth, General.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Street Corner Memorials On A Flat Earth

image credit: Temple University

Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake posted this YouTube video today of rookie Congressman Patrick Murphy (D PA-08) speaking about his own experiences in Iraq, and their applicability to today. I was especially interested to see this video, since I had contributed to his campaign via an online political contribution site called ActBlue. ActBlue represents a great innovation for progressive politics - from my home in the Pacific Northwest, I was able to contribute to truly progressive politicians, like Murphy, all over the country. This made my own money much more effective in electing the kinds of people I want in Congress than contributing to some PAC or to the Democratic campaign funds would have been.

In his speech today, Rep. Murphy mentioned patrolling a part of Baghdad that was roughly the size of his native Philadelphia with a "police force" made up of a brigade of U.S. airborne troops. This is roughly half the size of the Philadelphia police force, which, while it certainly faces some challenges at times, doesn't have to deal with a city-wide insurrection and daily chaos in a place where it doesn't understand the native language. He used the experiences of his American upbringing to contrast the things we take for granted with the situation in Iraq, and the cost that we are paying for our continued folly there (transcript). He mentioned a park near where he grew up, a park named for a fallen hero of an earlier mistake:

It was 38 years ago in August that Patrick, a door gunner in the U.S. Army, was killed in Vietnam after his helicopter was shot down. He was the type of person that neighborhoods devote street corners to and parents name their children after - including Marge and Jack Murphy, the parents of one of the authors of this article.

The Truth About Iraq

While it may sound like part of Murphy's speech, it's actually from an article he and Sen. John Kerry wrote last year. I was able to find it while searching for material on the memorial park, searching for the picture that heads this article.

Rep. Murphy concluded:

There are over 130,000 American servicemen and women serving bravely in Iraq. Unfortunately, thousands more are on the way.

Mr. Speaker, an open-ended strategy that ends in more faceless road-side bombs in Baghdad and more street-corner memorials in America, is not one that I will support.

Transcript of Patrick Murphy's speech

There is another memorial to Vietnam Veterans. It's not made out of stone, or any other real material. It's the Virtual Wall, an online listing of the names on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. It's not complete. For instance, it doesn't mention Patrick E. Ward, but it is an attempt to describe the people whose lives were cut short by the war. People who knew the dead write obituaries for them, complete with pictures.

Iraq has its own virtual memorials, one might say. One exists on blogspot. You can probably reach it from here if you hit the "next blog" button often enough. It's called Baghdad Burning, by a young Iraqi woman who calls herself Riverbend. She writes infrequently, at least partly due to the chaotic conditions that exist in her country these days. Last December she wrote:

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet. No- really. The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart- a chip here, a chunk there.

That is Iraq right now. The Americans have done a fine job of working to break it apart. This last year has nearly everyone convinced that that was the plan right from the start. There were too many blunders for them to actually have been, simply, blunders. The 'mistakes' were too catastrophic. The people the Bush administration chose to support and promote were openly and publicly terrible- from the conman and embezzler Chalabi, to the terrorist Jaffari, to the militia man Maliki. The decisions, like disbanding the Iraqi army, abolishing the original constitution, and allowing militias to take over Iraqi security were too damaging to be anything but intentional.

The question now is, but why? I really have been asking myself that these last few days. What does America possibly gain by damaging Iraq to this extent? I'm certain only raving idiots still believe this war and occupation were about WMD or an actual fear of Saddam.


Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn't make them more significant, does it?

End of Another Year ...

Sadly, an American death is more significant, at least to us. They're our countrymen. As Patrick Murphy points out, we sent them there, supposedly to protect us and to make the world a better place. So far, as Riverbend observes, that hasn't worked out too well. Iraqis no doubt feel the same about their dead. And there will always be people like Riverbend and me who wonder why that should be. Some things about human beings really are universal.

Contrast that with Patrick Lang's insightful essay for Foreign Affairs this month. Lang believes that at it was our belief that the rest of the world is just like us that led to the Iraq War:

In the four years since the United States invaded Iraq, it’s become clear that our campaign there has gone terribly awry. We invaded Iraq with too few troops; we destroyed the Iraqi civil administration and military without having a suitable instrument of government ready in the wings; we expelled from public employment anyone with a connection, no matter how tenuous, to the Baath Party—which included most people who could be described as human infrastructure for Iraq. The list of errors goes on and on. Even the vice president acknowledges that “mistakes were made” (although, presumably, not by him).

But how did the highly educated, wealthy, and powerful American people make such a horrendous, catastrophic series of blunders? As Pogo, the cartoon opossum, once famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” Yes, that’s right: We, the American people—not the Bush administration, nor the hapless Iraqis, nor the meddlesome Iranians (the new scapegoat)—are the root of the problem.

It’s woven into our cultural DNA. Most Americans mistakenly believe that when we say that “all men are created equal,” it means that all people are the same. Behind the “cute” and “charming” native clothing, the “weird” marriage customs, and the “odd” food of other cultures, all humans are yearning for lifestyles and futures that will be increasingly unified as time and globalization progress. That is what Tom Friedman seems to have meant when he wrote that “the world is flat”—that technological and economic change are driving humankind toward a future of cultural sameness. In other words, whatever differences of custom and habit that still exist between peoples will pass away soon and be replaced by a world culture rather like that of the United States in the 21st century.

What Iraq Tells Us About Ourselves

I'm not entirely sure that's what Friedman meant by a "flat earth". Friedman seemed to be saying that it was logical that our economies and affairs would become more closely intertwined as communications and transportaton technology advanced. It would follow, he seemed to be saying, that in some ways we'll become more like each other. Anyway, that's what he should have been saying.

Nevertheless, I agree that Col. Lang is right in that as a country we certainly had rather odd expectations about how Iraq would be after Saddam was gone, and part of the reason was that we truly expected them to just chuck their old culture and its attendant problems and adopt ours. I think you can count Friedman among the people who thought that way, at least to an extent that wasn't borne out by reality.

I left a comment on Col. Lang's blog, which he no doubt read since his blog comments are moderated. I don't know if Riverbend will ever read his words or my words here, but I suppose it's possible.

Which brings us to the central irony in all this, and the tragedy as well. It is that Tom Friedman is in many respects as right as Patrick Lang. The world really is becoming flat, at least in our ability to affect each other. The flat world exists in my ability to find out about, and contribute to the campaign of, a congressional candidate from clear across the country whom I've never actually met. It allows Riverbend to blog on the same blog site that I do, and for Patrick Lang's words to reach me and for mine to reach him, all without either of us having to leave our chairs. It is the flatness that allowed nineteen fanatics from halfway around the world to immolate themselves, and many others along with them, in a pointlessly destructive act that resulted in our own pointless invasion of a country that neighbored theirs. It also allowed that invasion to happen, as with remarkably little effort we were able to send an army halfway around the world to defeat a regional power that had been trained and armed by a former adversary of ours, a country whose military technology was almost as advanced as our own. Much of this would not have been possible even twenty years ago.

Yet we still are a world where vast differences exist. People are all alike in some ways - the hierarchy of needs works the same in Baghdad as it does in Philadelphia. But between the cultures that inhabit those two cities is a gulf of misunderstanding and misconception. We are in many ways a secular society. They are, at least in some ways, clearly not. We are a national society that grew up with democracy and a concept of the rights of people. They are a much older, but tribal society that's divided along ethnic, cultural, and religious lines. For them to become a true nation will take decades, if it can happen at all. To have expected otherwise, and to have expected most people there to greet us as liberators when we weren't even sure how many of them would have felt liberated, was perhaps the ultimate folly of this war.

Riverbend is right, too. It should not matter whether the dead are Iraqi or American. In some ways, that is changing, too. Their dead may come to haunt us someday, if any of their survivors decide to avenge them.

Ours is a new world in which what we do and what people halfway around the world do affect each other nearly every day. Even if we didn't have an army there, even if Al Qaeda had never sent those people here, it would be so. The Iraqis and Afghanistan have paid a terrible price for whatever little part they played in the latter tragedy. Now we will wait to see what happens to us thanks to our own folly. The title of Christy's article was "Accountability Knocks". I wonder what it will be holding when we finally open the door.

UPDATE: (Feb. 18) This BBC article shows another example of how the flat earth is affecting the Iraqis - Google Earth and and a website in the UK are used by Iraqis to avoid death squads.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Got Yer Unity Right Here ...

Image credit: Screenshot of Cujo by Echte Tunus

Some friends of mine sent me an e-mail recently asking me to join the Unity '08 campaign as a delegate or some such. These friends are a very nice couple who have been politically active for a long time. They feel that it's wrong for politics to be so partisan, that rancor and animosity are bad for politics, and that reasoned discourse and enlightened compromise are what politics needs more of. They're bright people who are engaged in their society and trying their best to make it better. I just think that they couldn't be more wrong about a political movement if they tried.

We'll ignore for now that whenever anyone mentions the perfect "bipartisan" ticket it always seems to include Joe "Hire more thugs. Why is everyone picking on me?" Lieberman, and John McCain, the man who worked for years for a law that would outlaw the use of torture by the American military, only to meekly accept when Bush used a signing statement to gut it. Who couldn't trust the guy who made a big show of opposing the Military Commissions Act, then quietly caved and approved the bill just the way Bush wanted it? I'm just not seeing how this "bipartisan" thing is working for me.

I'll also dispense with all the socio-political mumbo-jumbo about how sometimes a society isn't reasonable, and that the issues dividing it need some form of release short of war, and that politics is one possible arena for such conflict. I don't know squat about that anyway.

It's just that I'm not feeling terribly reasonable right now.

Don't get me wrong. I love reasoned, skeptical discourse and discussion as much as the next Internet persona named after a rabid animal. The best thing that ever happened to Western civilization were the ancient Greeks and the Enlightenment they helped inspire after the Dark Ages. Logic and science, divorced as much as possible from religion and other superstition, are the hallmarks of our civilization. I don't dismiss them, as do many yokels on the left and right. I just don't feel like using them as defined by the people who control the message.

Reason and compromise have come to mean "do it Bush's way", or "do it the way the rich want us to". Neither sounds much like reason or compromise to me.

The last six years have been like a mini-Dark Ages for this country. We've lurched from one failed war (also, here (subscription required) to another, stopping only long enough to take repeated dumps on our own Constitution. It's been deliberate government policy to transfer wealth and income from the poor and middle class and hand it over to the rich. This was all allowed with barely a whisper of discontent in the popular press and in our government. Meanwhile, we've seen a right-wing propoganda machine develop on TV and in the press that alternately ridicules and shouts down the reasonable voices that try to oppose it. People who favor a withdrawal from Iraq, some form of universal health care, an increase in the minimum wage, or any of several other points of view favored by a majority of the population are labeled misfits and extremists by these clowns. Do you really want me to think that there's reasoned debate going on there? Here's Unity08 luminary John McCain in a reasonable, bipartisan discussion [h/t Taylor Marsh]:

Toward the end of the conversation, I raised my hand and asked McCain:

"Given that you've said that you are 'scared to death that it's going to be a very hot spring in Afghanistan,' and given that you have also said, repeatedly, that only a substantial increase in troops in Iraq would make a real difference, why not send the 21,000 troops headed to Iraq, in what is clearly an act of desperation, to Afghanistan instead?"

During his response, McCain equated those opposing his position with "the far left."

"Do you consider Sam Brownback part of the far left?" I jumped in.

The Senator flared and told me that if I'd only let him finish his answer instead of interrupting, we could have "a civil discussion." ... ..

Davos Notes: John McCain Bites My Head Off

Wanting to win at least one of the wars we're fighting is a far left idea. If that's "a civil discussion" of competing ideas, I'm from the planet Triskelion.

Of course, the Democrats are doing their level best to be bipartisan. Former White House Counsel and chief sadist John Yoo, of all people, pegged them thus:

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky. That way they get to prepare for the next election while pointing fingers of blame and spinning conspiracy theories.

Giving Democrats a pass on ending the war?

Mustn't seem partisan, must we? After all, it's not like people specifically voted for Democrats to bring an end to the war.

Commissar is a right-wing blogger and long-time Bush supporter. He originally supported the Iraq war but some time last year finally came to the conclusion that the war has been a failure and was a mistake from the start. He acknowledged his own errors in judgment in supporting the war and, in the midterm elections, he supported and voted for Democrats because (like many voters) he wanted them to take over Congress and put a stop to the war.

Giving Democrats a pass on ending the war?

Oh, well, who cares about that? Darned partisans.

Being reasonable hasn't gotten us anything but shouted down by brainless little assholes like Sean Hannity, or told to shut up by a guy who still doesn't know who massacred whom at Malmedy. Do these people sound reasonable? How about David Broder, who lectures Bill Clinton about how his indiscretions had "trashed the place" (the "place" he's referring to is Washington, DC, believe it or not), but who still hasn't objected to any of the excesses of the Bush Administration or its enablers? Broder also was recently responsible for this little gem:

One of the losers in the weekend oratorical marathon was retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who repeatedly invoked the West Point motto of "Duty, Honor, Country," forgetting that few in this particular audience [the Democratic National Committee] have much experience with, or sympathy for, the military. ...

The Other Democrats Weigh In

Broder very conveniently forgets that of the thirty or so Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who ran for Congress this last time, all but one were Democrats. Maybe he never checked on that fact, or any other facts that are the least bit relevant to his slander of Democrats. This guy is often called "The Dean" of Washington correspondents, because he's so non-partisan and trusted, don't you know. I think The Dean is in serious need of some vocational education, and I'm just the unreasonable, partisan Internet persona to Google it for him:

Journalists should:
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Society of Professional Journalists: Code of Ethics

Speaking of folks who don't have much sympathy for the military, does George Will lecturing Sen. James Webb, a Vietnam vet whose son is serving in Iraq, about civility when Webb just stood up to Bush's clumsy attempts at bullying him represent politeness to you?

The news wanting to appear "bipartisan" has allowed thugs like Joe Lieberman to act like victims with little or no challenge from the very people in the press who should have checked on his stories:

the US Attorney for the State of Connecticut, Kevin O'Connor (a Republican whose name was bandied about as a replacement for Alan Schlesinger, before Karl Rove put out the word that the GOP should not put up any opposition to Lieberman), the FBI and State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal have concluded that the whole "site hack" accusation was pure fabrication with no basis in fact.

And Fairies Ate His Pants

Good thing there weren't any "partisans" in the press who might have checked up on that site hack story before they just credulously repeated Mr. Bipartisan's claims. We got dangerously close to informing the voters about the character of the person they were voting for.

If you disagree, consider this - a study done last year found nearly two-thirds of the overtly partisan guests on political TV talk shows like "Meet The Press" and "Face The Nation" were Republican or conservative leaning. Why is it that whenever we hear from people who are "religious authorities", they're almost inevitably conservative?. When were Rev. Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton last asked about their views on particular religious subjects? Why are they more "partisan" than William Donahue?

Fuck reason and bipartisanship. Whenever I think about what this raving group of losers have done to this country, and how little it's even been mentioned, let alone opposed, I want to rip someone's lungs out. How much more bipartisan can this country get before there's no such thing as a publicly aired difference of opinion? Talk to me when the country is once again run by people who don't think the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper", and we have a press that wants to dig into stories and not just repeat the latest gossip. In short, I want people in charge who remember that this is our country, and they just run it for us. Until that happens, I intend to be as unreasonable and partisan as I can manage.

NOTE: If you're interested in reading about what Unity08 is really all about, I'd suggest stopping by here. They have all the symptoms of being an astroturf organization, they're insisting that they're only taking small donations but have a list of $2,000 plus contributors, most of whom live near Washington, DC, and they're already trying to violate Federal Election Commission regulations. I voted for Nader in 2000 because I didn't want people like this running the country.

UPDATE: For an insight into how credulous the news is these days when it comes to right-wing originated smears, read this International Herald Tribune article:

Jeffrey Kuhner, whose Web site published the first anonymous smear of the 2008 presidential race, is hardly the only editor who will not reveal his reporters' sources. What sets him apart is that he will not even disclose the names of his reporters.

But their anonymity has not stopped them from making an impact. In the last two weeks, Kuhner's Web site, Insight, the last remnant of a defunct conservative print magazine owned by the Unification Church led by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, was able to set off a wave of television commentary, talk-radio chatter, official denials, investigations by journalists around the globe and news media self-analysis that has lasted 12 days and counting.

Anatomy of an anonymous political smear

Can you imagine some news outlet just copying what I write here without first checking it out, or at least finding out who I really am? I can't, but this seems to be perfectly OK with broadcast news organizations these days, as long as the "news" has a right-wing slant.

UPDATE2: Here's what the Society of Professional Journalists has to say about anonymous sources:

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story

Society of Professional Journalists: Code of Ethics

[emphasis mine]

Funny how the most visible journalists these days seem to be the ones least able to remember these rules.

UPDATE3: (Feb. 15) Here's what Glenn Greenwald had to say about anonymous sources this morning:

Why is it so hard for the media to understand that its role is not to simply echo what Bush officials tell it? That is what P.R. representatives and official spokespeople do. That is what Pravda did, and it is what other government-controlled media outlets do. The Bush administration does not need Michael Gordon or Barbara Starr to be a megaphone for its claims because it has the capability to voice its views and arguments without newspapers and television reporters reciting those claims as their own reporting.

The media is continuously violating its own anonymity policies re: Iran

Worth a read, I think. He clearly explains what's wrong with the press allowing government officials to credulously spread propaganda anonymously.

[late Feb. 15 - added words in italics to clarify].

UPDATE4: (Feb. 16) Glenn Greenwald deconstructs The Dean like a crowd of hungry cavemen ripping apart a Thanksgiving turkey.

UPDATE5: (Feb. 17) David Broder didn't have the sense to accept the first ass-kicking Glenn Greenwald gave him, so Glenn gives him another.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Drumbeat For War

Looks like I caught a cold, so I'm at home reading the headlines. If bad news suppresses the immune system I may never recover...

As if we aren't involved in enough wars already, it's becoming quite clear that the Bush Administration intends to attack Iran soon. I can't even guess at their true motivations for doing this, because that's a world of insanity that I don't want to explore. Juan Cole provided some insights about why the latest charges by Washington don't add up. Josh Marshall provides some backup, and some more here.

Let's just say that having a press conference at which no one can be identified and no independent photographic evidence is allowed certainly tweaks my skepticism. Even at the best of times, intelligence reports come perilously close to being claims of special knowledge mixed with some appeal to authority, and these definitely are not the best of times.

Needless to say, the lightweights in Congress want to run and hide from this just like they are hiding from the Iraq War.

UPDATE: Thankfully, not everyone in Congress is bereft of a spine. Sen. John Kerry has started a petition drive advocating a deadline for withdrawing American troops from Iraq:

Yesterday I stood up with a remarkable group of Iraq war veterans who are speaking out because they believe the best way to support the troops is to change a course that squanders their lives. When brave patriots suffer and die because of the incompetence of mere politicians, the only patriotic choice is to demand change.

These veterans offered a profile in courage.

The Senate this week provided a profile in politics – Republicans blocking even a vote up or down, one way or another on a bi-partisan resolution opposing the Bush escalation.

This has to end.

Republicans refuse even to go on record over the Bush escalation. That’s why we need to escalate the pressure for a policy change.

That’s why I am introducing legislation that will set a firm deadline for the redeployment of most American troops from Iraq.

[emphasis mine]

Please sign the petition, and then write your Senators urging them to support this initiative. (h/t Taylor Marsh).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

You Think That Was A Reduced Schedule? Then Watch This!

For the next week or so, this blog will be on a much-reduced publishing schedule - even more reduced than it has been lately. My days have been spoken for recently, and for the next week or so, my nights will be as well, and then following that my weekends will be tied up for a month. What all this means is no time to blog. Hopefully, I'll be able to publish an article or two a week starting week after next, but until then, the best I'll be able to do is check in occasionally and remove spam.

Meanwhile, if you're around starting at 11AM PST today (Saturday, Feb. 10), Jane and Christy are hosting a chat with chat with Ned Lamont today at that time. He's a modern day Mr. Smith in many ways, and worth checking out. Hopefully, he'll run for office again soon.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Why I Don't Have Cable

There are many reasons I don't have cable TV. I could probably afford it, but it's money I'd rather spend elsewhere. However, even if I was swimming in money, or had to push aside stacks of $1000 bills just to get into my kitchen each morning, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want cable TV. There's only so much stupid I can tolerate at one time, and things like this just make cable TV the ceaseless expanse of wasteland it is today.

Colorado Bob apparently can't stand the pain any longer. He's asked his fellow bloggers to pass along this call to arms for cable TV watchers everywhere. I pass it along without further comment, except to say that this just reinforces my desire to never have cable TV in my house again.

Enough is Eough
Anna Nicole :

The Winston Churchill of "Reality" TV

MSNBC Contacts : Just click it'll open your email

You know what to say ... just don't use "No Bad Talk" as Stubbs used to say.
Write them and tell them to stop, please urge your readers to write them.

I'll refrain from doing this, since that seems a little like the Pope lecturing people about sex. Still, if you're actually a cable customer and you agree with Colorado Bob, you might be doing yourself a favor by writing.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Rep. Holt Introduces Electronic Voting Reform Bill

People For The American Way (PFAW) released an email and a press release yesterday about a new bill that will be introduced in the House soon. It's Rep. Rush Holt's (D-NJ) bill about electronic voting machines. Here is the bulk of the email. I'm sure they won't mind if I quote it verbatim:

Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) has reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act [Cujo359: I will use the acronym VCIAA to refer to this bill].

Please add your name to our petition to Congress to PASS THIS BILL!

Following last week's introduction of Senator Barack Obama's Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act, Rep. Holt’s bill signals this new Congress' commitment to correct serious problems with our elections that were neglected for years by Republican-led Congresses. Passing these and other measures will require sustained public pressure on Congress. They need to hear from you now to show the tremendous grassroots support for comprehensive election reform.

Rep. Holt has introduced version of this bill in 2003 and 2005. It's way overdue. The aim, as the PFAW states, is to make our voting system more accurate and better able to serve voters with disabilities. I could not find a copy of the VCIAA 2007 online yet, so will quote from the old one. Once a new version is online, I'll update with any differences I find.

Any American who hasn't heard about the voting problems in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 has probably been living in a cave for the last decade. These, and other instances of improper and suspicious vote counting, are troubling indications that our voting systems, both the machines and the process, need to be fixed. Rep. Holt's campaign site makes the case well:

The 2000 election was highly contested, but there was physical evidence - punch cards - through which the results could be independently confirmed. In 2004, more than 43.5 million voters (25%) voted on electronic voting systems that cannot be independently audited. While the 2004 election was also highly contested, there were even fewer audit trails to review than in 2000 (only 12.5% of registered voters voted on unauditable electronic voting systems in 2000).

Sign the Voter Confidence Petition in Support of H.R. 550

[NOTE: The petition this quote was taken from is no longer valid. It is for the 2005 version of the bill. Use the PFAW links].

The VCIAA attempts to ensure that all votes can be verified in the future. To continue quoting from the PFAW email:

Rep. Holt’s bill requires the following for ALL federal elections starting in 2008:

  • Paper Ballots -- ALL voting machines must produce a paper ballot
  • Audits -- ALL voting machines must be audit-able
  • No Secret Source Code -- ALL voting machine vendors MUST make the machines’ software available for inspection
  • Ban on Wireless Devices -- Prohibits wireless technology in voting machines
  • Access for All Eligible Voters -- Ensures disabled and minority language voters can vote privately and independently

Let's take these points one at a time.

Paper Ballots

First, paper ballots as backup are essential. Even assuming there are no bugs in an e-voting system that would cause a miscount, improper handling or component failure in an e-voting machine could lead to lost votes. Having a backup for counting those votes is essential for this reason alone. In addition, the paper ballots can be compared against the electronic tallies at randomly selected precincts. This is a good way of both validating that the systems are working properly and that the voting process is working properly. In other words, it's a good way to tell whether vote totals are being altered through bugs in the voting machines, of if the vote totals are being tampered with.

Auditing and Verification

Of course, paper ballots help make e-voting machines auditable, but it must also be possible to verify that a voting machine's software is the correct version, and that the software itself has not been altered in some way. This can be done using a checksum or series of checksums. In addition, random audits of the system hardware also should be possible to ensure that no unauthorized modifications have been made for the purpose of altering vote counts. The 2003 version of the VCIAA specifically mandated such checks:


The Election Assistance Commission shall conduct manual mandatory surprise recounts of the voter-verified records of each election for Federal office (and, at the option of the State or jurisdiction involved, of elections for State and local office) in .5 percent of the jurisdictions in each State and .5 percent of the overseas jurisdictions in which voter-verified records are preserved in accordance with this section immediately following each general election for Federal office, and shall promptly publish the results of those recounts. The treatment of the results of the recount shall be governed by applicable Federal, State, or local law, except that any individual who is a citizen of the jurisdiction involved may file an appeal with the Commission if the individual believes that such law does not provide a fair remedy.

Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003

Whether 0.5 % of precincts is enough is a question I'll leave to statisticians, but the principle is valid.

Open Source Code

Source code is the human-language instructions that computer programmers write for computers. They are then compiled or interpreted by a computer to turn them into instructions a computer can understand. This source code must be available to the general public, and to computer programmers in particular, without requiring non-disclosure agreements. In my opinion, it should be open source. This would make it should be accessible to the public at large, who can point out flaws in its design without being silenced or bullied by the requirements of an NDA. This was implicitly part of previous versions of the VCIAA:

This section also adds a new section to HAVA covering software and modems. This amendment requires that the software contained or used in voting systems is disclosed to the Federal Election Commission as source code and that the code can be made "available for inspection upon request to any citizen"

Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 (

This open source policy should include the operating systems and any supporting software required by the voting software, as well. Several open source operating systems are available, including OpenBSD, which is specifically designed to operate securely.

Wireless Networking Disallowed

Computer security is about making it harder for someone to break into a computer. There are no absolute guarantees that a computer will not be broken into, but making it more difficult makes it less likely. Toward that end, banning the use of wireless networking, commonly referred to as "wifi", is one way of making it more difficult. Without wifi, physical access to the network or the voting machines themselves is necessary, which makes it less likely will be able to break into the systems unobserved. With a wifi network, all someone would need is the key used to encrypt the transmissions, which would be easy to do by both technological and old-fashioned methods. It would then be possible to break into a voting machines' network from the parking lot outside the polling place, or from a room down the hall. This is one of the reasons the Defense Deptartment, among other users with security concerns, discourages or bans wifi from secure networks.

Enhanced Accessibility

Part of the motivation for using electronic voting machines is to make them more accessible to voters with disabilities including being visually impaired or having nerve conditions that make accurately marking a paper ballot difficult. The 2003 version of the VCIAA attempted to ensure that this was done as well as possible:

(c) SPECIFIC, DELINEATED REQUIREMENT OF STUDY, TESTING, AND DEVELOPMENT OF BEST PRACTICES- In addition to any other requirements under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the Election Assistance Commission shall study, test, and develop best practices to enhance accessibility and voter-verification mechanisms for disabled voters.

Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003

In short, it mandated that e-voting machine designs would be reviewed to ensure that they employ the best technology available for people with disabilities.

Our votes are too precious to count them badly, and there is no reason that they should be counted badly from a technological perspective. As Rep. Holt's prepared statement supporting this new version of the Act notes:

“Make no mistake: the need for election reform in this country is urgent. We’re facing an election in 2008 which will decide control of Congress and the presidency, as well as thousands of down-ballot races. Many of these races will be close. Americans deserve to know that they will cast a vote that will be counted—and, if necessary, recounted, by fair and independent observers.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. many times used the phrase ‘the urgency of now.’ If these reforms are to be in place for 2008, we must act now. People For calls on all Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to make sure that legislation addressing these problems becomes law by this summer. The heart and soul of our democracy is at stake.”

Representative Rush Holt Introduces Election Reform Legislation

Computers can be made to do their jobs reliably and securely. Automated teller machines, and cryptographic systems are examples of computer systems that have been designed to function with the minimum possibility of tampering or fraud, and maximum reliability. The key to making such systems secure and reliable is using a peer-reviewed and verified software development process. So far, this has not been done with e-voting machines, mostly, I think, due to concerns about cost. The fault isn't in the computers, but in ourselves. So, please sign the PFAW petition and write or call your representatives asking them to support these bills.

UPDATE: I emailed PFAW about the bill, requesting a link to an online version of it. They said they'd get back to me. I've also added subheadings so it's clear what points of the email I'm refering to.

UPDATE2: Here's a complete copy of the proposed bill:

Thanks to Josh Glasstetter at PFAW for locating it. It may change a bit before it's officially up at the Library of Congress site. It's quite long, so it's going to take a bit of time to digest.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Power of Protest

image credit: Elvert Barnes

I was checking the sitemeter, which shows what computers have chosen to view pages of my blog, and found several over the last two days related to Oriana Futrell, whom I'd mentioned in an article on the Washington, DC protests that Congress and the Bush Administration have largely ignored. This mention has produced quite a few hits in the last couple of days. Determined to find out why, I did my own Google search of her name. Sure enough, she was on TV this week. She also, according to a German newspaper, was going to speak with some Senators in the following days.

There are literally a dozen unique hits having to do with this subject. By contrast, my recent mention of Molly Ivin's passing has netted a single hit. Ivins was a nationally known syndicated columnist who excited strong views. Mrs. Futrell, by contrast, is a 21 year-old college student.

Her home town newspaper's blog mentioned her yesterday:

Members of anti-war group CODEPINK spotted Oriana in her pink sweatsuit before a 10 a.m. rally at the U.S. Navy Memorial and invited her to speak.

Thanks to her sign, Oriana was soon telling thousands of protesters about the man she married in April.

She shared a stage with Academy Award winner Sean Penn and a Democratic presidential candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. But accounts of the event suggest Oriana outdid the professionals, moving many in the audience to tears. [1]

Army wife expresses love through protest

She's also been mentioned by the Miami Herald, two German newspapers, and one in Australia.

Why has this subject evoked so much interest? No one has left comments recently on that page. It is certainly a human interest story of the sort our 21st century news organizations love to indulge in - the ones about pretty white people. Beyond that, I have no idea.

Perhaps I should mention Maria Sharapova or Tom Cruise occasionally.

In addition to what it says about our priorities, I think this also points out why protests, those noisy and sometimes disruptive things that many criticize as being ineffective in changing minds, actually are not. Jane Hamsher and Patrick Lang, whose opinions I respect greatly, have recently written that they don't find protests to be effective. I respectfully disagree, and I say this as someone who hates being in a crowd and who finds chanting and some of the other behaviors one sees at protests to be absurd. While they certainly turn some against a cause, they also bring notice to that cause, when otherwise people might pay no attention at all. Several people came to my article because they had some interest in a pretty young woman. Maybe one or two read the article and thought about the subject in a new way. That, among other things, is the value of protests.

Even when what really spurs that interest is celebrities or pretty white people.

Delusions Of Adequacy: Limbaugh "Nominated" For Nobel

Taylor Marsh has an irritating article this morning on Rush Limbaugh being "nominated" by right-wing pundit/blowhard Mark Levin for the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, Levin, and Limbaugh presumably, are just upset that Al Gore was nominated for the prize. Is it because they don't think that Gore's work qualifies for a peace prize? Possibly, but I think there's something to be said for the idea that these guys would object no matter what Al Gore did (see the comments).

My own feeling on the matter is that while Gore's work might not strictly be thought of as peace work, it is related. The climate changes and loss of land that would accompany serious global warming (I hate that term, but use it in the interest of simplicity) will inevitably result in conflict for the resources that are still available, and for any resources that become available. To quote the Environmental Protection Agency on this subject:

Many global issues are climate-related and thus may be affected by climate change. These include water resource availability and food security, especially for areas already afflicted by drought and extreme weather events. Sea-level rise is a particular concern for low-lying coasts and island nations.

EPA: Climate Change: International Impacts

Thus, preventing catastrophic warming of the planet is worthy of recognition as work in the name of peace.

There have also been worse nominees for the prize. As commenter Karin points out at Netscape:

However, the Nobel Foundation has published a database of nominations spanning the years 1901-1955. The fact that Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini appear in this database is only slightly less controversial than the fact that Yasser Arafat won a Peace Prize, and Mahatma Ghandi did not. On the database front page, the Foundation takes pains to imply that Ghandi would have received the prize in 1948 had he not been assassinated; Nobel Prizes cannot be awarded posthumously, and there was no award handed out that year.

Netscape Anchor Commentary: Al Gore Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

As several commenters to Taylor's article pointed out, you have to be invited to nominate someone for a Nobel Prize. Otherwise, it's just a joke or an exercise in futility. Here's the explanation at the official Nobel Prize site:

Each year the respective Nobel Committees send individual invitations to thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists from numerous countries, previous Nobel Laureates, members of parliamentary assemblies and others, asking them to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year. These nominators are chosen in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.

Nobel Prize: Nomination

I doubt that Mark Levin was one of the invited, since he's not a government, a university rector, or a past awardee, and someone with his critical thinking skills could only dream of being a scientist. According to TPM Muckraker, two Norwegian political leaders nominated Al Gore:

Gore was selected jointly by Norwegian political leaders from both the Conservative and Socialist parties, who are both qualified nominators.

Gore Nominated For Nobel Peace Prize

From the AP report cited by TPM:

“A prerequisite for winning the Nobel Peace Prize is making a difference, and Al Gore has made a difference,” Conservative Member of Parliament Boerge Brende, a former minister of environment and then of trade, told The Associated Press.

Brende said he joined political opponent Heidi Soerensen of the Socialist Left Party to nominate Gore as well as Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier before the nomination deadline expired Thursday.
Norwegian lawmakers are among the thousands of people and groups with rights to nominate Nobel candidates.

And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to ... Al Gore?

So Al Gore was legitimately nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Argue with the merits of that nomination all you want, but Gore can legitimately be described as a nominee for the award. Rush Limbaugh was not nominated for the Nobel Prize. Some of his friends just think he should be, and were willing to make an effort to demonstrate how they felt.

Nevertheless, I think it's safe to predict that the right and much of the "news" in this country will treat this stunt as a legitimate nomination. Lying and being oblivious to reality are what the right do best, and uncritically reciting those lies is what the news organizations in America do best. I'd love to be proved wrong, because to quote a line, I hate it when I'm right.

UPDATE: Peterr at Firedoglake has an interesting roundup of articles and opinions about the recent U.N. report on climate change. The summary is out now (PDF), and apparently the full report will be available in May.