Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: September 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blogging from the Road

I'm not jaded enough at this point in my life that I'm no longer amazed at what technology has given us. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I have taken a car trip this weekend, and we'll be arriving home later than planned--too late, in fact, for me to write a Sunday post on the laptop at home. So instead, here I am in the passenger seat of the car, uploading something that will potentially be read in Tokyo, Sweden, South Korea, or anywhere in the world. Less than twenty years ago, I knew a guy who had a portable phone, which seemed incredible enough. It was all very Maxwell Smartish, a phone in a briefcase, but the fact that he could carry it around with him at all seemed a tremendous advance. But now, as I said, not even two decades later, I have a far more powerful device (with a keyboard, no less) that I can stick in my back pocket. What will the technological world be like in another ten years?

While we were out driving this weekend, we had occasion to take a run across the Canadian border. We had our passports ready (although they're theoretically unnecessary when crossing in a car for the next few months), and the crossing guard motioned to see them when she noticed them in my hand. But we also found reinforcement for one of our theories about crossing the border. The secret word seems to be "Shreddies." Shreddies is a breakfast cereal that, for reasons that have never been clear to me, is only available in Canada and not in the United States. It's vaguely like Life or Wheat Chex, but not quite like either. I love Shreddies and try to buy at least a couple of boxes when I'm in Canada. We've found that, when asked what we're bringing back, the answer "Shreddies" seems to put an end to the questions and results in a fairly quick wave through. That happened again tonight, but it was accompanied by the strongest reaction I've gotten so far. When I said that we had a few boxes of Shreddies, the border guard gave me a look of, "Well, yeah, why wouldn't you?" She actually did say, "Shreddies are great! You can't get them in the States." At which, she promptly handed back our passports and waved us through.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Handful of Links

Last night, I mentioned my tough time getting a good online connection and discussed a couple of things I couldn't link to. Well, my connection isn't a heck of a lot better tonight (although I'm on a laptop rather than the Blackberry), but here are the links.

The Spanish story was originally printed in El Pais, which published transcipts (in Spanish) of a talk between Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar from early in 1993. Bush clearly tells Aznar that he's planning to go to war regardless of how the UN voted. Juan Cole claims that this is an impeachable offence.

The whole Limbaugh thing has actually had some movement on it. In response to a call on Wednesday, he argued that soldiers who didn't support the Prez's Iraq policies were "phony soldiers." Media Matters has the article and the transcript. He tried to talk his way out of it and played an edited tape of the original segment with the offending material cut out to "prove" that he hadn't said it in the first place. Acting somewhat out of character, Democrats are actually holding him somewhat accountable, and even the White House has stepped away from the comments. Will the Senate vote on a resolution denouncing Limbaugh for his slur on the soldiers as they did for its attack on General Petraeus? Don't hold your breath.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Very Limited Access

I've been having a really tough time getting connected tonight. It feels like it's the 20th century all over again. There's.been no luck whatsoever getting online through the laptop, and Blackberry blogging has been somewhat frustrating ever since Blogger was bought out by Google and it received an "upgrade." I don't know if it's a firewall issue, but more often than not, the Blackberry can't get a connection to the Blogger home page. First it says that there's no page at that address, then it says that the page's certificate isn't valid, and then it quits altogether, blaming a "communications failure" of some kind. At first, I thought that I wouldn't be able to post with my Blackberry anymore at all (and it's possible that I blogged a complaint to that effect, as well). I don't remember whether I was bored enough or frustrated enough to keep trying the first time I discovered that it was indeed still possible (although highly annoying) to connect and post through the Blackberry. Be all that as it may, it's annoying enough that I'm not going to go out and seek any links tonight. If you want to read about the Prez's argument to the president of Spain that he was going into Iraq no matter what the UN or the American people wanted--as well as the collective yawn this revelation received in the press--you'll have to go look it up yourself. Or if you want the latest on Limbaugh's insult to the "phony soldiers" of the U.S. military fighting in Iraq--as well as the silence of the same Republican party that was up in arms about "General Betray us" just a couple of days ago--you're on your own, as well.

We'll see what tomorrow brings in terms of connecting to the Internet. In the meantime, I'll get to bed at a relatively decent hour.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Happened in Memphis on Tuesday?

I've been traveling, so it's possible that there's been a lot of coverage of this and I've just missed it, but how widely covered was the air traffic control mishap in Memphis on Tuesday afternoon? The AP reports that communications equipment went down at the Memphis regional air-traffic control center, but that means far more than just the airport was disabled for a little while. Flights originated elsewhere and going to other places was affected, as well. Anything going through the airspace of the Memphis center at all, on its way, say, from one coast to the other, was disrupted. Flights in the air were transferred to other air-traffic control centers (I don't know, but I'm assuming that means they had to change course and fly around the Memphis airspace entirely, because with no one communicating, it couldn't be assumed to be safe). Flights that would be flying through that airspace were held on the ground until communications were reestablished. There are twenty air-traffic control centers in the United States, so we have to assume that something like 5 percent of the nation's airspace was effectively shut down for a couple of hours. It was later reported that the communications failure was an AT&T problem, which does little to offer any reassurance.

This is another example that the infrastructure of this country is operating on spit and chewing gum. Whether it's bridges collapsing, roads being subpar, or air travel becoming paralyzed, we've got a lot of structure and equipment that is well into its obsolence phase. We've got major and costly repairs and upkeep ahead of us if we want to keep our country in working order. Why do I have the feeling that all of that is going to be put on hold until we finish running our military into the ground in Iraq? Welcome to the future.

Well, They Sort of Caved

Unlike I believed last night, the reworked Lieberman-Kyl amendment took out the worst part of the sabre-rattling language against Iraq, so it's not quite the declaration of war against Iran that it might've been. It's still belligerent, though. ThinkProgress has the marked up bill so you can see for yourself. The toned-down bill garnered 76 affirmative votes, including Harry Reid and Hillary. Jim Webb, who spoke so eloquently against it on Tuesday, still voted no, as did presidential hopefuls Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. Obama, interestingly enough, Barack Obama wasn't present on the Senate floor, so he didn't have to weigh in one way or another. Two no votes that surprised me belonged to Republicans Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar. They both have spoken out against an extended occupation in Iraq, but after the recent drama of John Warner's principled statement against the Prez's misguided policies followed by his complete unwavering support for such policies, it's hard to remember that Republicans can actually follow their convictions.

As to the amendment itself, I suspect it'll go on the back burner, ready to be pulled out as soon as we need an excuse to do more than merely rattle sabres on the issue. It's part of the groundwork being set for expanding the War on Terror into another country that didn't attack us on September 11.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Will the Democrats Cave Again?

There's some scary, frightening stuff lurking in the night, tonight. Apparently Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl think that our military isn't yet stretched enough, because they seem bound and determined to set up a confrontation with Iran. They've offered a fairly innocuous-looking amendment that smoothes the way toward military confrontation with that country. That's right, Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University on Monday and was met with ridicule. Any respectability he may have courted was lost as he made himself the butt of jokes, but ridicule is apparently not enough for Lieberman and Kyl when potential combat is available.

Josh Marshall has a video take on the matter, describing the implications of the amendment, and ThinkProgress chronicles developments through Tuesday. At one point it appeared that a vote on the amendment might actually come on Tuesday, but after Jim Webb identified the legislation as a de facto call to war, the amendment was pulled back to be retooled, but according to Think Progress, the new language does little to assuage worries. Reid seems to have some idea of the trouble he's courting if the Democratic Senate jumps on this amendment, but he seems to be personally up in the air over whether to support the amendment. After the travesty of the Iraq war vote, the idea that he and the other Democrats would consider such a piece of legislation is almost enough to make one give up hope.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Something to Do Tuesday Night

As usual, I'm late posting about this. As regular readers know, the true identity of Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is Francesca Peppiatt, managing director of Stockyards Theater Project. On Tuesday night, Stockyards is hosting a fundraiser for a new play it's helping to produce, Blindside. Written by Gemma Cooper-Novack, Blindside is scheduled for a world-premiere production directed by Laura Blegin at the Raven Theatre in January. The benefit Tuesday night will feature scenes from the play along with music, wine, and appetizers. It's at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre at 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago, and the festivities start at 6:30 (with the presentation set to begin at 7:30). All for a scant $25, guaranteed to go to a worthy cause. You can find official information at the Blindside site. If you're in the neighborhood (or can get yourself to the neighborhood), drop by. The Cubs are in Miami playing the Marlins, so traffic and parking shouldn't be that big of a deal.

Speaking of Stockyards, they're also getting set for the 8th annual Women's Performance Arts Festival, which this year has a theme of "A Fierce Presence." It'll run from Friday, October 26, through Sunday, October 28. The festival is a Stockyards tradition, and as always it promises a cornucopia of drama, comedy, music, dance, and whatever else looks promising. I'll try to avoid my own burgeoning tradition and provide a reminder before Thursday, October 25. Of course, if you're getting impatient for more information, you can always click through to the Stockyards Website.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Old Habits Die Hard

For the past couple of years, I've been trying to spotlight Frank Rich's restricted columns from TimesSelect, quoting them at some length and providing a link to somewhere else that was reprinting the column in full. Today, of course, I no longer have reason to do that. As I mentioned on Friday, The New York Times gave up its subscription-only Web content. For this first time in years, Frank Rich can be read without restrictions right on the Times' site.

But I've been reliably talking about Rich every week, so it's hard to just stop cold. Here we are again, then, but this time you can read him at your leisure. He's taking a look at Larry Craig's situation and makes a good argument for letting him remain in the Senate if he wants to. Although Craig's behavior in the bathroom of the Minneapolis airport may have been questionable, it was not illegal. Just because he's a juicy target doesn't mean he should be railroaded. Besides, as Rich points out, the Republicans have been slowly chipping away at the minorities in their party, pushing out African-Americans and Hispanics, thus leaving Craig as a representative of one of the last minorities still present in any significant numbers: closeted gay men.

The G.O.P. needs at least one minority group in its ranks if it's going to be a viable political party in the 21st century. As the former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp asked rhetorically last week, "What are we going to do — meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?" His comment was prompted by the news that the major Republican candidates had claimed "scheduling conflicts" to avoid a debate at a historically black college in Baltimore. This was so obvious a slight that even Newt Gingrich labeled the candidates' excuses "baloney," and the usually controversy-averse Jay Leno was moved to call for the Republicans to "change their minds" after the debate's moderator, Tavis Smiley, aired the issue on "The Tonight Show."

The brushoff of that debate followed a similar rejection by the same candidates (except John McCain) of a debate sponsored by Univision, the country's most-watched Spanish-language network. It's only the latest insult to Hispanic voters, the fastest-growing American minority. Without Hispanics, the G.O.P. is doomed in swing states from Florida to Nevada. If you have any doubts, just look at the panic at the staunchly Republican Wall Street Journal editorial page. It has now even started attacking its own cohort — what it calls "Fox News populists and obsessive bloggers" — for driving away once-Republican Hispanic votes with over-the-top invective about illegal immigrants.

It would be unfair to say that the G.O.P. is devoid of sensitivity to all minorities. True, Peter King, the Long Island congressman, said last week that America has "too many mosques," but he was balanced by Mitt Romney, who sent out a press release wishing "the Jewish people" a hearty "L'Shanah Tovah" for the New Year. And let no one fault the Republican presidential field for not looking like America: Alan Keyes is back!

But the last minority with at least a modicum of influence in the party's power structure seems to be closeted gay men. As an alternative to cruising men's rooms, the least they could do is use their clout to stay the manifestly unjust execution of Larry Craig.

Craig, who'd never had a terribly high profile, quickly became the poster child of far-right hypocrisy. What's in it for us to rush him out of the spotlight?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Egg Rolling

I've blogged about food every now and again, with posts about donuts and cereal gaining particular popularity. A conversation I had this evening led me to think that maybe it's time again for another food post.

We were talking about the difference between egg rolls and spring rolls. In this country, spring rolls have a thinner, crispier skin and are often made without meat. Egg rolls, on the other hand, are usually stuffed even more full than spring rolls. I used to love egg rolls (and spring rolls) until a funny thing happened about twenty-five years ago. Well, it really wasn't that funny. That was the first time I ate an egg roll that had something in it that I was allergic to. It was the kind of reaction I get from peanuts or peanut butter, so I assumed they were the culprit. Since that time, more and more egg rolls have fallen the lead of the errant appetizers, and more often than not, I'm allergic to any egg roll I taste. I've asked cooks and chefs whether there's anything of the kind in their egg rolls, and they always deny it. If peanuts or peanut butter aren't present in the egg roll, what could be causing this phenomenon? I want to enjoy egg rolls again without wondering how quickly they might make me sick.

I'd intended this post to have a bit more information than it does, but I'm simply too tired to make much sense of it. Look for further allergy posts over the next few days.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Legends of the Fall

Those of us disappointed by the reality of September and the absence of any substantial change to the Iraqi situation it has brought with it might want to go back and relive the legend of "September will change everything," which blossomed for a brief, optimistic moment in late spring and early summer. Atrios has been doing yeoman's service over the last couple of days in collecting the literature of this period in our national politics. Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that Bush's strategy had better show "significant success" before the fall or "Congress should consider . . . a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year." (She voted to stay the course this week.) Moderate Republicans told the Prez in May that they'd "desert" him in the fall if conditions didn't improve. (They didn't.) General George Pace stated that if conditions in Baghdad improved by fall, troops would be withdrawn. (Although the Prez and General Petraeus insist that things are going great, no troops are on their way home.) Tom Friedman reported that General Petraeus said he would know by "late summer" whether his strategy for Iraq would work and claimed that he had "an obligation" to the troops to change things if it didn't. Further, Friedman vowed to "hold him to those words" so that "Mr. Bush is not allowed to drag the war out until the end of his term, and then leave it for his successor to unwind." (Friedman, or anyone else for that matter, is welcome to start holding him to those words at any time.) Joe Lieberman called for a "truce" in Washington bickering until "the end of summer," when we'd be able to tell whether the strategy was working. (Lieberman is apparently ready for Washington to become a free-fire zone of criticism against the administration's war. He's welcome to join in the criticism whenever he's ready. Presumably that'll be sometime after his vote this week to stay the course.) Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott and House Minority Leader John Boehner said that the Republicans could be patient for only so long and would need to see "some significant changes on the ground" by fall in order to continue supporting the war. (No significant changes, but continued Republican support.) And all in one massive post, Atrios reminds us of how several months ago David Broder, Frank Rich, Joe Klein, and David Ignatius insisted that everything would be different in September. (Guess what? It's not.)

It's almost enough to make us pine for those wondrous days when September seemed so bright.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Free of Charge

Here's some good news. Starting Wednesday morning at midnight, lights went out, and The New York Times firewall came tumbling down. Although the Times claims that it was doing as well as they'd expected over the last two years with paid subscriptions for their columnists and archives, but the potential for advertising profits from their various visitors was far greater. One interesting observation a Times spokesperson made, proving that they don't really understand the dynamic of the Web, was that they were surprised at the number of visitors to the Times site who came from search engines or links on other sites. They apparently saw their site as a destination site, independent of whatever else was happening online.

Although I've reliably had a good Sunday post by pointing out where Frank Rich's column could be read by nonsubscribers, I'm glad to see the Times return to mass accessibility. Beyond Frank Rich, there are a number of good writers worth your time, and an awful lot of great material. I don't know whether it's intentional or just a coincidence, but Paul Krugman has started a blog (which is addition to his normal twice-weekly column). At one post on Tuesday, two yesterday, and one today, he's doing better than I am.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

No Habeas Corpus

There are 42 Republicans and 1 "Independent Democrat" in the Senate who don't support habeas corpus. The specific issue revolves around the rights of alien "enemy combatants," but the Military Commissions Act arguably applies to U.S. citizens, as well. This is going to do wonders for Congress's 11-percent approval rating in the latest Reuters/Zogby poll.

When will the Democrats learn how to play the media game. Last year, whenever Democrats threatened to filibuster bills that genuinely deserved to be filibustered, the Republicans and their media pals screamed as though the world was ending. They were even considering a "nuclear option" that would ultimately do away with the filibuster altogether. But when Republicans filibuster, the Democrats mildly complain and don't press the issue. The loss of this amendment was reported as if the Senate just wasn't interested in restoring habeas corpus. How many people are watching these proceedings closely enough to pick up that the Republicans (and their "Independent Democrat" pal) are simply being obstructionist?

What would happen if we returned to the old-fashioned Mr. Smith Goes to Washington method of filibustering? Let everybody know that the Republicans are standing up there saying that they're too afraid of the enemy combatants in Guantanamo (and hidden elsewhere around the world) to actually have to face them in a court of law. Make it hard work to filibuster again. That way, nobody will filibuster unless they really mean it. Let's go back to good, old American values.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Calling Dr. Heimlich


I'm only going to say this once. If the Red Sox allow themselves to be swept by the Blue Jays in the middle of a pennant race, they don't deserve to get to the postseason.

UPDATE--They lost. Spectacularly, too, with Jays third baseman Russ Adams hitting a grand slam with two outs in the 8th. The Yankees extended their winning streak to four in a row, cutting the Red Sox division lead from 5 1/2 games to 1 1/2. The only saving grace is that Detroit, the Yankees' closest rival for the wild card, were swept by Cleveland, so if the Yankees push the Red Sox out of first, the Sox are still 7 games in front for the wild card and postseason play. Not that they deserve it, though.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Habeas Corpus

Senators Christopher Dodd, Patrick Leahy, and Arlen Specter are sponsoring a bill to restore habeas corpus, which was so brutally withdrawn from American jurisprudence in last year's Military Commissions Act. Well, that might be a bit strong, but the bill did say that the Prez could waive habeas corpus, and thus hold people without charging them with a crime, at his leisure. This was a travesty when it passed, but what's truly unconscionable is the fact that the current effort is getting so little notice. Looking for a good link about the bill, I did a Google News search for habeas corpus and barely got a handful of hits about this bill. But you can find some basic information from Chris Dodd at Taylor Marsh's Website, background from Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report, and a list of senators on the fence from Christy at firedoglake. The New York Times and The Washington Post both weigh in in favor. But Lindsey Graham apparently doesn't think this time-hallowed doctrine should potentially bind the government's hands, so he's organizing a filibuster. Christy is reporting that the cloture vote is due in 10:30 eastern on Wednesday morning. It's not clear whether there are 60 votes yet in support of habeas corpus, so call your senator to make sure they're on board. If you want to know how close to 60 votes they are at any given time, there's a vote counter here. As I go to bed, there's still some way to go to get a veto-proof majority.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The New AG

So it's not Ted Olson in Justice, after all. The Prez picked a different far-right jurist for attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey. He's got the credentials, having been a U.S. attorney in New York City who was appointed to the federal bench by Ronald Reagan. While there, he presided over terrorism cases such as a plot to blow up the United Nations and other New York landmarks. He's close to the Giuliani campaign, but I guess we can't have everything. On the other side of the red/blue divide, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer supports him as well. In fact, many Democrats are acting as though this is the best they could hope for (and perhaps it is) and are suggesting that the confirmation process may go fairly smoothly. They shouldn't allow that. Although Mukasey may well be the best choice that could come from this administration, this is the Senate's opportunity to push for some information a get a few questions answered. As we found from the continuing drama that was Alberto Gonzales, this opportunity doesn't come around that often. For some reasons why progressives might perhaps have a shred of optimism concerning this nomination, go read Glenn Greenwald from yesterday and discover how Mukasey stood up to the Bush administration during the first days of the Jose Padilla case.

Judge Mukasey repeatedly defied the demands of the Bush administration, ruled against them, excoriated them on multiple occasions for failing to comply with his legally issued orders, and ruled that Padilla was entitled to contest the factual claims of the government and to have access to lawyers. He issued these rulings in 2002 and 2003, when virtually nobody was defying the Bush administration on anything, let alone on assertions of executive power to combat the Terrorists. And he made these rulings in the face of what was became the standard Bush claim that unless there was complete acquiescence to all claimed powers by the President, a Terrorist attack would occur and the blood would be on the hands of those who impeded the President.

In demanding that Padilla be denied access to lawyers, the Bush administration argued that access to counsel would destroy its ability to interrogate Padilla, and that "enemy combatants" had no such rights. Mukasey emphatically rejected both contentions.

Greenwald stresses that passing along these facts is not an unequivocal endorsement of the nominee, but a willingness to buck the Bush administration over principal is a good start.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reflecting on the Democrats Again

The Iraq war is paradoxical in any number of ways. Although many of the issues involved are extremely complicated, but the U.S. participation boils down to a couple of simple questions: Are we leaving, and if so, how quickly? Similarly, the fallout from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker can raise a number of issues, but the primary result we're concerned about is whether or not the Democrats will cave or put up a fight against the White House's stay the course intransigence. I'm already on the record with what I expect, but Frank Rich jumped on that same bandwagon in his column today. In fact, playing off the ad in The New York Times, he titles the column, "Will the Democrats Betray Us?"

The public is and has been way ahead of our political leaders. The Republicans were dumped from control of Congress and the Democrats brought in because we want to see something happen. Rich takes some of his space to marvel at what the Democrats seem to refuse to do.

Even if military "victory" were achievable in Iraq, America could not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted weeklong visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, "24" lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's.

You can't blame the public for changing the channel. People realize that the president's real "plan for victory" is to let his successor clean up the mess. They don't want to see American troops dying for that cause, but what can be done? Americans voted the G.O.P. out of power in Congress; a clear majority consistently tell pollsters they want out of Iraq. And still every day is Groundhog Day. Our America, unlike Vietnam-era America, is more often resigned than angry. Though the latest New York Times-CBS News poll finds that only 5 percent trust the president to wrap up the war, the figure for the (barely) Democratic-controlled Congress, 21 percent, is an almost-as-resounding vote of no confidence.

Last week Democrats often earned that rating, especially those running for president. It is true that they do not have the votes to overcome a Bush veto of any war legislation. But that doesn't mean the Democrats have to go on holiday. Few used their time to cross-examine General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their disingenuous talking points, choosing instead to regurgitate stump sentiments or ask uncoordinated, redundant questions. It's telling that the one question that drew blood - are we safer? - was asked by a Republican, John Warner, who is retiring from the Senate.

The big argument against doing anything much is that the Democrats have a bare majority in the Senate and not much more in the House, so what can they actually pull off? It's true that they don't have the votes to force Bush to back down completely, but certainly there are strategies that can be put into place. If Democrats want to show us why they deserve to win the White House, rather than replace the current occupant for little reason beyond default, they've got to come up with a proactive agenda. Here's Rich again.

It's also past time for the Democratic presidential candidates to stop getting bogged down in bickering about who has the faster timeline for withdrawal or the more enforceable deadline. Every one of these plans is academic anyway as long as Mr. Bush has a veto pen. The security of America is more important - dare one say it? - than trying to outpander one another in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate need all the unity and focus they can muster to move this story forward, and that starts with the two marquee draws, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's essential to turn up the heat full time in Washington for any and every legislative roadblock to administration policy that they and their peers can induce principled or frightened Republicans to endorse.

They should summon the new chief of central command (and General Petraeus's boss), Adm. William Fallon, for tough questioning; he is reportedly concerned about our lapsed military readiness should trouble strike beyond Iraq. And why not grill the Joint Chiefs and those half-dozen or so generals who turned down the White House post of "war czar" last fall? The war should be front and center in Congress every day.

Mr. Bush, confident that he got away with repackaging the same bankrupt policies with a nonsensical new slogan ("Return on Success") Thursday night, is counting on the public's continued apathy as he kicks the can down the road and bides his time until Jan. 20, 2009; he, after all, has nothing more to lose. The job for real leaders is to wake up America to the urgent reality. We can't afford to punt until Inauguration Day in a war that each day drains America of resources and will. Our national security can't be held hostage indefinitely to a president's narcissistic need to compound his errors rather than admit them.

He's completely right. The Dems are as good as abandoning the field to the lame duck president and his abysmal approval ratings. I wasn't the only one hoping that Democrats returning home for the summer break would spend enough time with their constituents to realize that the inside the beltway attitudes defining this whole situation have no bearing in truth and no relevance to the vast majority of citizens. We saw very little indication of that last week, but I guess there's always room to be surprised. I'm ready for a startling truth like that anytime the Democrats wish to offer it.

Young Marble Giants

Earlier today it occurred to me that I was blogging too much politics and not enough pop culture. Before I could figure out how to correct that, the question answered itself. I discovered that the Young Marble Giants catalog has gotten a more complete and higher profile release than it's ever had before.

Young Marble Giants were a band out of Cardiff, Wales, during the late '70s and early '80s. Like most of the lower-profile music of the time, I read about it before I actually heard it, but when I came across their one-and-only-album, Colossal Youth, released in both the UK and the U.S. on Rough Trade, it more than held up to my expectations. Before there was reasonable international distribution of British music mags, and certainly before there was an Internet, it was hard to follow the ins and outs of Brit music trends. We'd allowed punk to evolve into "new wave" in this country, so we weren't really aware of such niceties as "post-punk." Most of the new groups were brash and loud, so the idea of a minimalist and subdued Young Marble Giants was quite intriguing, indeed. Two brothers, Stuart and Philip Moxham on guitar, bass, and organ, and Alison Statton on vocals promised an entirely different experience of music for the time. When I finally came across the album, the songs were great, but what I immediately noticed was the power of the music. Soft, quiet, and containing a strength that was sometimes overwhelming.

I found a used copy of the Rough Trade CD, which also included an EP of instrumentals. Although I can't put my hands on it at the moment, I'm relatively certain that I got another CD version that had material from a half dozen or so more songs. But on Tuesday, Domino released a new, even more complete version of Colossal Youth that has all that and more, including demos and outtakes. The first pressings will also include an extra disc of six tracks recorded for John Peel's radio show. Domino has been doing a great job of going back to find and reissue some of the great, somewhat obscure material from the early 80s such as Orange Juice's The Glasgow School, Josef K, the Triffids, and Fire Engines, so it's hardly a surprise that they'd give Young Marble Giants a go. For more information on the band, take a look at this semi-official site. If I can find a record store that hasn't gone out of business, I'm going to pick this up as soon as I can.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Maybe It's the "No Math"

I'm beginning to wonder if there's any kind of uniformity coming out of the White House. Somewhere or another (and I'm too tired to google around to see if I can pinpoint where--if such a discovery is even possible) we started using the 30,000 as the number of troops who would be coming home in the Unsurge. That's not a huge number in relation to the total number of troops stationed there, but it's large enough to get our attention. Of course, once they had our attention, first Petraeus, and then the White House as a whole started backing off of it. Sure, it sounded like they were talking about 30,000, but those numbers could easily be manipulated so that the actual count of troops going home from Iraq could be far smaller. Or it could be much larger. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates today held a press conference and stated that as many as 100,000 troops could be withdrawn by the end of next year. It didn't take much time before a Gates spokesperson "clarified" that Gates's estimate was purely a personal opinion--because one always calls a press conference to shoot the breeze with reporters and offer some personal opinions that have nothing whatsoever to do with true administration policy. It's been speculated for quite some time, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of unifying policy in the administration.

Yeah, yeah, you're thinking. So what else is new?

Friday, September 14, 2007

He Needed Prime Time for This?

I didn't watch the Prez on TV tonight, but I did hear parts of his speech on the radio in the car. I was very tempted to skip this post all together and go to bed early. If Bush wasn't saying anything new, why should I bother to? But then I decided that I'd keep thinking about the whole situation, so I might as well put down some stray thoughts. The Washington Post has some coverage, and in a nice break from the media's recent tendency to take the administration at its word, they actually check his facts, as well (and believe it or not, Bush does fudge the details from time to time). But to hear the Prez tell it, things are just getting better and better in Iraq. So good, in fact, that the soldiers who were sent temporarily in the surge might actually get to leave when the surge is over! Their temporary tours are probably not going to become permanent. That is good news. In fact, it's starting to look like the situation nine months from now might make enough progress that it matches the situation of January of this year (nine months ago). Some might suggest that an eighteen-month surge that left things pretty much the same as they were when the surge started is the very definition of failure (or at least irrelevance). But they're the half-empty contingent. Glass half-fullers, on the other hand, will--well, they'll just lie to you, and we saw plenty of that tonight.

Bush had no new ideas in his speech tonight, and my big fear is that the Democratic Congress won't have any new ideas, either. They'll talk a big game about forcing the administration to change its direction, and then they'll cave and give Bush most, if not all, of what he wants. If we're lucky, they'll send a strong bill to the White House that will, in all likelihood, get a veto. But when they're unable to override, well, you know what they'll do next. Of course, I'd love to be proven wrong. Come on, Democrats, bring something original to the table!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The New Math

We need to get a big picture person on top of things in Iraq. If it wasn't clear before, we're now finding out that this person is not General Petraeus. Yesterday, to quite a bit of notice, he admitted that he really hadn't given any thought to whether or not the war in Iraq is improving American security. In an interview broadcast this morning on NPR's Morning Edition, Petraeus flat-out stated that he'd not bothered to figure out how many troops really would be coming home under the plan he proposed (and that the Prez jumped all over this evening). He said he hadn't done the math, as simple as that. Therefore, he doesn't really know how many troops he's calling to withdraw. Here's the exchange with Steve Inskeep:

INSKEEP: I want to first make sure that I understand the numbers that you're talking about. It's been said that what you've described is a reduction in 30,000 troops. Is that, in fact, what you –

PETRAEUS: What I've described is a reduction of five brigade combat teams, Army brigade combat teams, the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which actually is coming out this month without replacement, and two Marine battalions. Now, we want to take out other –

INSKEEP: That's a little less than –

PETRAEUS: Well, we have to do the math, candidly. We've got – I have not yet said how many thousands of troops.

INSKEEP: So when people have said 30,000, they're not quite accurate. It might be 30,000 — it might be quite a bit less.

PETRAEUS: Well, we've got to determine what it can be.

There's really no hurry, though. This "massive reduction" of troops back to the status quo ante surge isn't even supposed to be complete for another nine months. That's plenty of time to pull out the old calculator.

Justice Post Gonzales

Never one to take the easy way if the in-your-face way was available, the Prez seems to be getting close to nominating a new attorney general. Ted Olson, a controversial, partisan figure, seems to have the inside track. Olson, who already served the Prez as solicitor general, is probably most notorious for his leadership in the Arkansas Project, which was the smear campaign against President Clinton that eventually pushed the former president into impeachment. Depending on how one scores such things, he could be a less desirable candidate for attorney general than Alberto Gonzales himself.

Good news came this afternoon as Harry Reid came out to say that if nominated, Olson will not be confirmed. The Democratic Senate has achieved some positive results in the past few months, so blocking Olson seems likes its possible, but I'm not the only one to have been disappointed enough by the Democrats that I certainly hope Reid is not talking out of his hat. I don't know how much of Reid's statement might be a bluff and how much he can back up, but this doesn't seem like the kind of fight the Prez would shy away from. Bush might nominate Olson just to see whether or not Reid can back up his claim. If Reid's bluff is called, it's imperative that the Senate Democrats follow through on their threat. We're better off having an empty attorney general's office than to have it inhabited by another dysfunctional functionary.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Highlight Reel

As I vaguely expected, the senators were a bit harder on General Petraeus than those denizens of the so-called "people's House," but not a whole lot. Some senators used their question time to present prepared statements, not allowing Petraeus or Crocker to speak at all. However, that may have been just as well, as Dana Milbank reports, instead of offering any new information or even phrasing, Petraeus simply reread the same opening statement he offered to the House yesterday. But when he did come up with something new, we got a few interesting tidbits.

The biggest news, which pretty much every other progressive blog is commenting on as well, is probably that Petraeus apparently isn't much of a big picture man. When John Warner, the retiring Republican senator from Virginia, asked whether what we're doing in Iraq is making America safer, the general responded with more candor than he probably intended. "Sir, I don't know, actually." He explained that because he's so focused on the situation in Iraq, he hasn't taken the time to consider a bigger picture. When the opportunity arose during Indiana senator Evan Bayh's question period, Petraeus retracted that statement, essentially saying, "Wait a minute, I meant yes, America is safer."

There was more clarification, as well. The withdrawal ending the surge that Petraeus has been talking up actually has nothing to do with whether or not the surge is successful but will be the result of the surge troops' deployment terms ending. Their tours are up and we don't have enough personnel to replace them, so instant drawdown!

John McCain tried to shoot down the argument that recent success in Anbar province has nothing to do with the surge. After Petraeus talked around the question a little bit, McCain bluntly asked, "Could it have happened without the surge?" To which Petraeus replied, "It would not have happened as quickly without the surge." In other words, yes.

Not content with only two hot wars, Joe Lieberman tried to gin up support for an attack on Iran, too, suggesting the general might like the authority to cross the border to attack insurgent training camps. Petraeus, perhaps feeling that he's in far enough over his head already, responded, "Sir, I think that really the Multi-National Force-Iraq should just focus on Iraq and that any kinds of operations outside the borders of Iraq would rightly be overseen by the Central Command, the regional combatant command." Thankfully, Lieberman's time ran out before he could elaborate on his point further.

My opinion from yesterday hasn't changed. Petraeus and the administration did what they needed to. Although there will still be dissension, enough legislators will stand by the Prez, especially now that there's looking to be a troop drawdown, regardless of the reason for it.

By the way, you can take a look at the transcript if you want to scroll through and looking for the quotes I cited.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Anniversary

I've been wondering all day about how to acknowledge the date above this post. It was particularly odd today, at least in Chicago, because not only is it a Tuesday again, but it was a fresh autumn day, very reminiscent of six years ago.

Like most people, I suppose, I'm distressed by the way this date has become politicized, but I was afraid that anything I wrote, particularly while General Petraeus is testifying before Congress, would just add to the politicization. So I finally did what I should've done in the first place. I went back to see what I've done on this date in the past. In 2005, I was still overwhelmed by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but when I read what I wrote last year, I wasn't sure I could necessary improve on it. I'm sorry to say that, aside from the lack of construction at Ground Zero, which has since picked up, most of the post still applies. We're not in such fear of an imminent terrorist attack, but it's still the specter of al Queda we're fighting in Iraq. Osama bin Ladin still has the freedom to record and release videotapes (or have they gone digital in the remotest caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan?).

On the bright side, we've elected a Democratic Congress since I wrote that, and though it doesn't always seem like it, that makes a big difference. But to elaborate more on that just now would move in that politicization direction I wanted to avoid. There'll be time for that soon enough. For now we should just take the time to reflect on what we've lost and where we go from here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The General's Talking a Lot (But He's Not Saying Anything)

Yeah, Petraeus and Crocker went in front of Congress today. Wanna make something of it?

I'm not really sure there's much to say about it. There weren't particularly any surprises. Petraeus said that things in Iraq weren't great, but they were getting better. As Atrios points out, that's pretty much how Petraeus had to play it. No progress and Democrats and a handful of Republicans would demand that we get out. Too much progress and we can start standing down as the Iraqis stand up. No, just like Baby Bear's porridge, Petraeus had to get it juuuuust right.

He wasn't above making promises, though. Maybe, if everything goes our way, in a year we might be able to bring home the as many troops as we sent over there when the surge began. That's right, in the summer of 2008, we might bring the number of troops down to where they were at the beginning of this year. Now that's progress.

The first part of the big "September Moment of Truth" went down pretty much like I thought it would. Petraeus provided enough positive reinforcement to calm Republicans worried about reelection. He may face tougher questioning tomorrow from the Senate (you'd expect it to be the other way around, since every House member faces reelection next year and most senators do not). Senate Democrats issued a "Fact Check" of today's testimony (hat tip AMERICAblog), so they may want to challenge him on a few points. Or, more likely, they'll want to showboat. We'll know soon.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Continuing Mission in Iraq

As we've pointed out before (endlessly, it seems to us), now that Labor Day has passed into the mists of history, the Bush administration is ready for a new sales campaign. And it's just about time for them to start selling an open-ended continuation of the Iraq War. In his column today, Frank Rich pointed out something that I'd missed. Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the Bushies' push to get the war started in the first place, the Sunday when Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld fanned out to the newstalk shows to spin their yarns of Saddam Hussein as the font of all evil in the world. Condi warned that it would be a mistake to let "the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." As we've discovered since, that wasn't the only mistake we were in danger of making.

Our position in 2007 isn't that much different. The Prez has something he wants to accomplish, mainly strengthening support for the current mission in Iraq, and he doesn't have much material with which to promote it. So we're falling again into the trap of fear mongering. Rich spells out much of the situation in his column, "As the Iraqis Stand Down, We'll Stand Up."

Today the spirit of [the White House Iraq Group] lives. In the stay-the-surge propaganda offensive that crests with this week's Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, history is repeating itself in almost every particular. Even the specter of imminent "nuclear holocaust" has been rebooted in President Bush's arsenal of rhetorical scare tactics.

The new WHIG is a 24/7 Pentagon information "war room" conceived in the last throes of the Rumsfeld regime and run by a former ABC News producer. White House "facts" about the surge's triumph are turning up unsubstantiated in newspapers and on TV. Instead of being bombarded with dire cherry-picked intelligence about W.M.D., this time we're being serenaded with feel-good cherry-picked statistics offering hope. Once again the fix is in. Mr. Bush's pretense that he has been waiting for the Petraeus-Crocker report before setting his policy is as bogus as his U.N. charade before the war. And once again a narrowly Democratic Senate lacks the votes to stop him.

As always with this White House, telegenic artificial realities are paramount. Exhibit A, of course, was last weekend's precisely timed "surprise" presidential junket: Mr. Bush took the measure of success "on the ground here in Anbar" (as he put it) without ever leaving a heavily fortified American base.

A more elaborate example of administration Disneyland can be found in those bubbly Baghdad markets visited by John McCain and other dignitaries whenever the cameras roll. Last week The Washington Post discovered that at least one of them, the Dora market, is a Potemkin village, open only a few hours a day and produced by $2,500 grants (a k a bribes) bestowed on the shopkeepers. "This is General Petraeus's baby," Staff Sgt. Josh Campbell told The Post. "Personally, I think it's a false impression." Another U.S. officer said that even shops that "sell dust" or merely "intend to sell goods" are included in the Pentagon's count of the market's reopened businesses.

But although there's more "data" to choose from, the mainstream media seems intent on allowing General Petraeus and his sponsor in the Oval Office to spread whatever "facts" they want to. Even with the Prez's low approval ratings, he and his administration continue to be able to trump the "reality-based" community and define the situation in Iraq in whatever manner they want to. Moving the goalposts is the least of their tactics.

n this new White House narrative, victory has been downsized to a successful antiterrorist alliance between Sunni tribal leaders and the American military in Anbar, a single province containing less than 5 percent of Iraq's population. In truth, the surge had little to do with this development, which was already being trumpeted by Mr. Bush in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.

Even if you believe that it's a good idea to bond with former Saddamists who may have American blood on their hands, the chances of this "bottom up" model replicating itself are slim. Anbar's population is almost exclusively Sunni. Much of the rest of Iraq is consumed by the Sunni-Shiite and Shiite-Shiite civil wars that are M.I.A. in White House talking points.

The "decrease in violence" fable is even more insidious. Though both General Petraeus and a White House fact sheet have recently boasted of a 75 percent decline in sectarian attacks, this number turns out to be as cooked as those tallies of Saddam's weapons sites once peddled by WHIG. As The Washington Post reported on Thursday, it excludes Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence. The Government Accountability Office, which rejected that fuzzy math, found overall violence unchanged using the methodology practiced by the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

No doubt General Petraeus, like Dick Cheney before him, will say that his own data is "pretty well confirmed" by classified intelligence that can't be divulged without endangering national security. Meanwhile, the White House will ruthlessly undermine any reality-based information that contradicts its propaganda, much as it dismissed the accurate W.M.D. findings of the United Nations weapon experts Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei before the war. General Petraeus intervened to soften last month's harsh National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. Last week the administration and its ideological surrogates were tireless in trashing the nonpartisan G.A.O. report card that found the Iraqi government flunking most of its benchmarks.

Those benchmarks, the war's dead- enders now say, are obsolete anyway. But what about the president's own benchmarks? Remember "as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down"? General Petraeus was once in charge of the Iraqi Army's training and proclaimed it "on track and increasing in capacity" three years ago. On Thursday, an independent commission convened by the Republican John Warner and populated by retired military officers and police chiefs reported that Iraqi forces can take charge no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and that the corrupt Iraqi police force has to be rebuilt from scratch. Let us not forget, either, Mr. Bush's former top-down benchmarks for measuring success: "an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." On that scorecard, he's batting 0 for 3.

What's surprising is not that this White House makes stuff up, but that even after all the journalistic embarrassments in the run-up to the war its fictions can still infiltrate the real news. After Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two Brookings Institution scholars, wrote a New York Times Op-Ed article in July spreading glad tidings of falling civilian fatality rates, they were widely damned for trying to pass themselves off as tough war critics (both had supported the war and the surge) and for not mentioning that their fact-finding visit to Iraq was largely dictated by a Department of Defense itinerary.

But this has not impeded them from posing as quasi-journalistic independent observers elsewhere ever since, whether on CNN, CBS, Fox or in these pages, identifying themselves as experts rather than Pentagon junketeers. Unlike Armstrong Williams, the talking head and columnist who clandestinely received big government bucks to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind, they received no cash. But why pay for what you can get free? Two weeks ago Mr. O'Hanlon popped up on The Washington Post op-ed page, again pushing rosy Iraq scenarios, including an upbeat prognosis for economic reconstruction, even though the G.A.O. found that little of the $10 billion earmarked for reconstruction is likely to be spent.

Anchoring the "CBS Evening News" from Iraq last week, Katie Couric seemed to be drinking the same Kool-Aid (or eating the same lobster tortellini) as Mr. O'Hanlon. As "a snapshot of what's going right," she cited Falluja, a bombed-out city with 80 percent unemployment, and she repeatedly spoke of American victories against "Al Qaeda." Channeling the president's bait-and-switch, she never differentiated between that local group he calls "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the Qaeda that attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't even exist on 9/11, may represent as little as 2 to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, according to a new investigation in The Washington Monthly by Andrew Tilghman, a former Iraq correspondent for Stars and Stripes.

As one popular catchphrase from the last century put it, "the truth is out there." The only question is whether we'll bother to look for it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

March Is the New September

We've finally made it to our moment (month) of truth. It's September, which has long been held out as the last chance the Prez has to hold on to Republican support for the war in Congress. Those hanging around to try for another term, as the argument goes, would be worried about how the war will undermine their election chances. Or at least that's what they said a few months ago. Now most Republicans seem content to believe the cooked numbers about the surge and aren't so worried about their election prospects. And General Petraeus is going to suggest a new line six months down the road toward which we can start kicking the can. Today's Washington Post reported that the general wants to come back in six months and tell us how the war seems to be going then. We can keep this up for years (which is exactly what the Bushies seem to be trying to do). In March, just eight months before the election, we'll be told that things are getting better slowly but still quickly enough to make it worth remaining involved. The U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan and independent institute that gets its funding from Congress issued a report saying that the U.S. should maintain a presence in Iraq for another five years. That puts it right at the forefront of issues for the 2012 election, never mind about 2008. And the Democrats? They'll go right along with it.

I hope tonight I dream about what it would be like to have an opposition party.

Friday, September 07, 2007

More Late Night Musings

I took in a ballgame tonight and saw a 12-run 9th inning and watched rookie pitcher Heath Phillips improve his record to 1-1 and drop his career ERA from 13.5 to 5.40. Lance Broadway made his major league debut and can honestly say he's struck out half the batters he's faced and owns the lowest ERA in baseball. None of this is particularly important but just an explanation of what I was doing instead of scouring the Internet for the most trenchant and fascinating links to pass along to you. I do have a couple, though.

I meant to mention this last night but got carried away in my indifference to Fred Thompson's lackluster sexual appeal. You'd think that conservatives who've been waiting for him to jump into the race for the presidency, but, well, you'd be wrong. They want Petraeus in the running, too.

Osama bin Laden is back with a new videotape, which forces a question I've had for a little while. Wasn't the point of the old TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive that Steve McQueen actually caught the people he went after? Just wondering.

It's a good thing the powers that be are telling us that the economy remains pretty solid, because otherwise I'd think that a record number of foreclosures on new mortgages and the first monthly drop in jobs in four years added up to a one-two punch of some sort or another.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Low Interest Blogging

I feel like I've got nothing tonight. Yeah, Fred Thompson finally threw his hat into the ring, but I'm having a hard time getting worked up about that one way or another. He'll be the flavor of the month for, say, a month or so, and then people will tire of his habit of parroting the Bush administration line on pretty much anything. Most voters, I believe, will get fed up with mainstream media insisting that he's one sexy MF. I don't see it, myself, but that might just be my gender getting in the way. I'd be very curious to hear from any of you out there if you think he's sexy and you want his body. Ever on the lookout for a local angle, one local TV station was excited to report that a Thompson presidency would mean a local first lady, as Thompson's wife, Jeri Kehn is from the Chicago suburb of Naperville. It doesn't mention whether or not that trumps the fact that Obama is from Chicago (and currently represents Illinois in the Senate) and Hillary is from Park Ridge.

I didn't bother to watch, but Thompson took a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger's book and made his announcement on Leno. He needs to be careful, though, because he made his appearance in Hollywood when all the rest of the Republican candidates were at a New Hampshire debate sponsored by FOX News. Asked by Leno why he wasn't there, as well, Thompson responded, "I don't think it's a very enlightening forum, to tell you the truth." That kind of talk breaks one of the network's cardinal rules: "Don't diss the FOX." I'm sure we'll see how well they react soon.

Speaking of talk show hosts and candidates, Oprah is taking an interest in Obama's campaign. She's hosting a fundraiser for him on Saturday, and she's talking about some sort of high-profile role in helping him get elected. If Obama does indeed go all the way, what would be the best Cabinet position Obama could offer her?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tears of a Gown

I know. It's an immensely lame pun, but sometimes I just don't have the strength to resist. Yesterday ThinkProgress passed along a report about that almost restores your faith in human nature. In his new book on the Supreme Court, The Nine, legal scribe Jeffrey Toobin recounts how Justice David Souter was so troubled by the Court's setting aside of precedent and logic to award the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 that he almost quit in disgust. Here's the money quote from the Yeas and Nays blog at

Toobin writes that while the other justices tried to put the case behind them, "David Souter alone was shattered," at times weeping when he thought of the case. "For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice," Toobin continues. "That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same."

What a coincidence! My attitude toward the Court has never been the same, either.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Everybody Back to Work!

Well, I guess that was the summer. Put your white dinner jacket back into mothballs. It's time to get back to work.

In keeping with the whole "back to school" nature of the season, Congress is back in session. We've been waiting for September for quite some time, as that's when the Republicans decided they were going to tell the Prez that they mean business on Iraq. They're waiting for General Petraeus to give them the "straight scoop" of what's going on in Iraq, and then they're going to tell the Prez that he has to face the music.

I know, you're sitting there wondering why I'm even bothering to write about this, because we can see from miles away how it's all going to turn out. To be completely honest, I'm wondering why I'm bothering to write about it, too. Petraeus is already saying things are going swimmingly in Iraq. The Prez is going to say we need to stay the course. The Republicans in Congress will argue that now things seem to be turning around, it would be foolish to cut and run. And the Democrats are going to cave.

Just to make sure, the administration is throwing a bone to the Dems. After he snuck into Iraq, where he remained in the comfort of the most heavily fortified air base in the country, he suggested that conditions might be right to reduce the number of troops in Iraq. Petraeus and other military leaders have been even more frank, acknowledging that current conditions are putting too great a strain on the military and we'll soon have no choice but to start bringing them home. So that gives Democrats an out to claim that they've been vindicated.

But that's not all. Just in case that's still not enough, Bush is also moving the goalposts. We now have a whole different definition of success than we did when the surge began. In the link I just provided, The New York Times provides one of the best laugh lines I've seen in ages:

It is not clear whether the Democrats who control Congress will be in any mood to accept the changing measures. On Tuesday, there were contentious hearings over a Government Accountability Office report that, like last month's National Intelligence Estimate, painted a bleak picture of Iraq’s future.

Of course it's clear! Whenever it comes to Iraq, Democrats are in a mood to cave! That's becoming one of the great political cliches of our time.

No matter what kind of suspense they're trying to build up, we all know which way this is going to fall. Atrios called it yesterday. Dan Froomkin, back from vacation, spelled it out today:
Much of the press seems to be going along with a narrative that involves suspense over what Petraeus and Crocker will say and what Bush will decide. It's true that the public doesn't know the details yet, but it really couldn't be more obvious that Bush already knows full well what Petraeus and Crocker will tell Congress next week -- and has already decided on what he himself will tell the nation the following week. What's going on now is not deliberation, it's a PR campaign.

We know what's going to happen. We know how it will end. It's just like Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (or Alan Moore's Swamp Thing #25, if you want to be catty). Annushka has already spilled the sunflower-seed oil. The conclusion has already been decided. However reluctantly, the Democrats will give the Prez substantially what he wants. It's all business as usual.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Relax on Labor Day!

I couldn't find much comics-related union and labor material, possibly because the comics industry has been notoriously reluctant to organize. Apparently comics pros are just as reluctant to write and illustrate material about unions, too. This is a collection by various creators about the history of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, that came out a couple of years ago (and this is the largest scanned graphic of the cover I could find).

Tom Christopher has a nice write up of the intersection of the labor movement and comics if you're interested in reading more.

Enjoy your day off!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Genuine Music Guru

You can't properly observe Labor Day by writing a column, so Frank Rich is off again this week. But that doesn't mean there's not anything interesting in The New York Times. Today's Sunday magazine has a lengthy cover feature on Rick Rubin, record producer and, it's hoped, savior of the record industry.

Through file sharing and iTunes, recorded music is all around us, but the traditional record companies aren't making a lot of money at it at the moment. And it's not just music, but that's a problem that a lot of content is having these days. Newspapers and magazines, book publishers, and various other last generation content industries are finding that profit's getting harder and harder to generate. I've got no great love for media conglomerates, but the reality is that they're a significant source of money to be made by writers, performers, and other artists. Rubin, who's recently taken a position atop Columbia Records, explains the details as they relate to the recording industry:

"Until very recently," Rubin told me over lunch at Hugo's, a health-conscious restaurant in Hollywood, "there were a handful of channels in the music business that the gatekeepers controlled. They were radio, Tower Records, MTV, certain mainstream press like Rolling Stone. That's how people found out about new things. Every record company in the industry was built to work that model. There was a time when if you had something that wasn't so good, through muscle and lack of other choices, you could push that not very good product through those channels. And that's how the music business functioned for 50 years. Well, the world has changed. And the industry has not."

. . .

"In the past, I've tried to protect artists from the label, and now my job would also be to protect the label from itself. So many of the decisions at these companies are not about the music. They are shortsighted and desperate. For so long, the record industry had control. But now that monopoly has ended, they don't know what to do."

Rubin's got a solution that would be quite a stretch for Columbia and other record companies, and I'm not sure it sounds too appealing to me, either, but if we're smashing paradigms, I suppose we should smash paradigms.

To combat the devastating impact of file sharing, [Rubin], like others in the music business (Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine at Universal, for instance), says that the future of the industry is a subscription model, much like paid cable on a television set. "You would subscribe to music," Rubin explained, as he settled on the velvet couch in his library. "You'd pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you'd like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere. The iPod will be obsolete, but there would be a Walkman-like device you could plug into speakers at home. You'll say, 'Today I want to listen to ... Simon and Garfunkel,' and there they are. The service can have demos, bootlegs, concerts, whatever context the artist wants to put out. And once that model is put into place, the industry will grow 10 times the size it is now."

Maybe. And if not that, then it will probably have to be something just as radical. But regardless, in the short term it will be interesting to see how long the partnership between Columbia and Rubin can last. I'm not sure Rubin can save the music industry, but if he can't, I'm not sure who's a more likely candidate.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


There are always new developments on the U.S. job front. For years American workers have been frustrated to see their jobs being shipped overseas where they can be performed at a lower wage and with less overhead. We've always claimed that globalization is a give-and-take proposition, but we seem to be far more on the give side than the take. But perhaps there's something to be thankful for in a stumbling economy and a weak dollar. Earlier this week, India-based Wipro Technologies declared that workers in its home town of Bangalore have become too expensive. As we've all known or suspected, the tech sector in India has exploded in recent years. The level of capabilities and talents has gone up, and as a result, so have salary demands. In looking elsewhere for cheaper employment prospects, Chairman and CEO Azim-Premji (# 21 on Forbes's list of billionaires from earlier this year) took a look at an area that's world-renowned for tech talent: the United States. He announced that he plans to bring 500 to 1,000 new jobs to the Atlanta, Georgia, area over the next few years. Who knows whether this might not be part of a new trend? If the United States becomes famous for its cheap labor, there's no telling how many jobs may come back from overseas. The downside, of course, comes when we look at the implications of such a move. What does it say about our standard of living if other countries are trying to save money by dumping jobs on us. But then again, we're talking job creation. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth (because if its teeth are rotten, wouldn't you rather just being in denial about it?).