Saturday, March 26, 2005

Let's get something clear..

I was remiss before, but it's worth quoting the salient parts of this Tyler Cowen post:

The purpose of our blogging is to circulate ideas that are new, or at least new to us and perhaps to you. But every now and then there is something to be said for sheer repetition of the important. If nothing else, this incursion into the known might make those points more memorable, more salient, or more likely to influence your behavior. So here goes:

Torture is morally wrong, and the U.S. government should not be torturing people or easing the use of torture. And yes I will make an exception for the ticking nuclear time bomb.

And for those who think this is merely an example of the United States "outsourcing" torture to other countries, consider the following Los Angeles Times story by Mark Mazzetti: (which is not about torture per se, but certainly an exanple of what happens when torture is condoned):

The Army has concluded that 27 of the detainees who died in U.S. custody in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002 were the victims of homicide or suspected homicide, military officials said in a report released Friday.

The number is higher than Pentagon officials have acknowledged, and it indicates that criminal acts caused a significant portion of the dozens of prisoner deaths that occurred in U.S. custody.

The report by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command is the first detailed accounting of detainee death cases the military has investigated in those countries.

Most of the incidents cited in the report previously had come to light. Three death cases cited in the documents occurred after the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq revealed serious abuses in the military detention system and prompted several high-level investigations into the U.S. military's prison system worldwide.

The 27 confirmed or suspected homicides occurred during 24 separate incidents, 17 of them in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan. The Criminal Investigation Command has determined that there were homicides in 16 of the incidents and is continuing to investigate the other eight incidents.

So far, the Army has found sufficient evidence to support charges against 21 soldiers in 11 incidents on offenses that include murder, negligent homicide and assault. The five other completed investigations involve personnel from the Navy, other government agencies and foreign armies.

Despite the report, the Army does not plan on prosecuting anyone named.

Here's a thought -- with the Iraqi insurgency looking for an exit option, and with it becoming increasingly clear who's running foreign policy nowadays, perhaps this would be a good time to ease out the guy responsible for this cancer on the military?

posted by Dan at 05:12 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Another day, another vulnerable ex-Soviet republic

If there were an award for Most Quiescent ex-Soviet Population, Belarus would probably just squeak by Turkmenistan for the trophy. Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko rules with an iron fist, but in the past most Belarusians have just shrugged their shoulders in coping with their dictator.

Via Glenn Reynolds comes an Interfax report suggesting that may be about to change:

Members of Belarussian opposition parties and movements and entrepreneurs have joined an unauthorized rally in downtown Minsk to show their support for previously arrested opposition activists and entrepreneurial movement leaders, an Interfax correspondent reported.

Here's a photo:


There are additional reports from Mosnews, Reuters, the Associated Press, and Pravda. The AP has the most detailed account:

About 1,000 pro-democracy protesters [Interfax and Reuters both have the number as only "several hundred"--DD.] tried to gather Friday near the palace of President Alexander Lukashenko, claiming to be emulating the popular uprising in fellow ex-Soviet republic Kyrgyzstan, but they were beaten and dispersed by police in riot gear, and several dozen were arrested.

It took the truncheon-wielding police about two hours to disperse the protesters, who chanted "Down with Lukashenko!'' and "Long live Belarus!'' A group of 100 or so opposition activists regrouped, only to be pushed away a second time.

Protest organizer Andrei Klimov said the demonstration was intended to help spark a revolution similar to those that have swept Georgia, Ukraine and, most recently, Kyrgyzstan, ousting unpopular governments.

"Today's gathering must send a signal to the West, Russia and our own bureaucrats that Belarus is ready for a serious change,'' Klimov said. "Our aim is to start the Belarusian revolution and force the resignation of Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe.''

Pravda notes wryly that the demonstration took place, "just as the government criticized Kyrgyzstan's opposition for the seizure of power there.... The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning that its action could destabilize the entire region. 'The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole,' it said."

The cautionary note comes from the Reuters report:

Belarus's opposition takes heart from the protest movements which led to authorities being toppled in other ex-Soviet states -- like Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

But opposition to Lukashenko remains small and divided, with activists fearing repressive measures. A Belarussian identity was crushed under communism and any post-Soviet revolt would be hampered by a lack of the nationalist sentiment present in the other countries.

That assessment seems true to me -- but then again, I didn't think the Ukrainians were going to rise up a few months ago.

The key difference is that, as today's events demonstrate, Lukashenko will have no problem whatsoever with using all the coercive tools at his disposal to stay in power.

Developing -- the fourth wave, that is.....

posted by Dan at 02:54 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

The universality of inane Internet chatter

Hamish McDonald reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Internet afford people the opportunity to make jackasses out of themselves no matter how old the civilization. To be specific, not all Chinese reacted well to Condi Rice's recent trip to Asia:

"How come the United States selects a female chimpanzee as Secretary of State?"

"This black woman thinks rather a lot of herself."

"She's so ugly she's losing face. Even a dog would be put off its dinner while she's being fed."

The 5000 years of civilisation on which the Chinese pride themselves were not so evident this week in the comments on Condoleezza Rice's visit to Beijing posted on the internet site "New Tide Net".

As monitored by the media analyst Liu Xiaobo, the overall tone of the 800 postings was hostile and about 10 per cent were racist, sexist or both, reflecting what Mr Liu calls a pervasive phobia here about dark-skinned races.

Read the whole thing -- not for more quotes like this, but to see how the Chinese leadership has had a bad foreign policy stretch as of late.
Thanks to alert reader P.D. for the link.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The fourth wave of democratization?

Events in Kyrgyzstan (click here for a useful BBC backgrounder), combined with previous events in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Georgia, are making me wonder if maybe, just maybe, we're at the beginning of the fourth wave of democratization. In his book The Third Wave, Samuel Huntingtion observed that previous moments of democratic regime change took place in clusters. The first (small) wave was in the early 1800's, the second took place immediately after the Second World War, and the third wave started in Southern Europe in 1974 and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All waves of democratization are followed by counter-waves, which happened in the mid-to-late nineties, with authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes emerging in a lot of the post-Soviet states. However, the exogenous shock of 9/11, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the strong rhetoric of the Bush administration on this front has combined to trigger some serious political change across the Eurasian land mass.

The Kyrgyz example is likely to send chills down the spine of two much larger countries -- Russia and China. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin can't be thrilled with the fact that he can't have a tea break without some country in his near abroad overthrowing a ruler that was on decent terms with Putin. The fact that ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev is reportedly fleeing to Russia will highlight this painful fact.

As for China, Beijing's first preference is not to have a democratic revolution take place in Central Asia so close to Xinjiang -- China's western-most province with plenty of restive Uighurs chafing at Beijing's control. [UPDATE: In somewhat unrelated news, China is also feeling international pressure from it's ham-handed efforts to presure Taiwan.]

Let's be clear -- there's a fair amount of fragility in this nascent fourth wave: Iraq could curdle, Kyrgyzstan could descend into chaos, Hamas could win Palestinian elections, and Lebanon could be split by sectarian strife. The Bush administration's actions may not match their rhetoric. Writing in the International Herald-Tribune, Aaron David Miller points out the resiliency of Arab dictatorships:

By and large the Arab world has proved to be remarkably stable. Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president's father, governed with an iron hand longer than all of his predecessors combined; Egypt had only four presidents (all of them authoritarian) in its modern history; at his death King Hussein had governed Jordan for more than 45 years; and in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait royal families control politics and power to this day. While the rest of the world has witnessed dramatic political change, the Arab world seems trapped in limbo. There are now more time-tested democracies in Africa, a continent raked by manmade and natural disasters, than in the Arab world....

It would be nice to hope that the Palestinian and Iraqi models will serve as launching pads for rising democracies; but for the foreseeable future, the odds are against it. Arabs may be excited and fascinated by political ferment in Iraq; but they are also alarmed by the absence of public order, the cacophony of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish voices, and the seemingly irrepressible and violent insurgency. Despite genuine desire among millions of Arabs for greater openness, there will be no rush toward democracy. Nor should we be surprised by the formidable capacity of these authoritarian regimes to quash meaningful reform. In this regard, getting Syria out of Lebanon may well take much longer than many anticipated.

Paradoxically, the Arab-Israeli conflict, which most of these regimes generally want to see resolved, serves as a firebreak against the kind of political reform that many of these regimes don't want. Clearly, when the Arab public is riled up by events in Palestine, it is less focused on events at home. If the Bush administration wants to pursue democratization in the Arab world effectively, it should work to defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict and deny the regimes the ability to use it to avoid political and economic reform.

Then again, as Michael Doran points out in Foreign Affairs online, this whole Palestine-as-pivot-root-causes theory of change in the Middle East just might be hokum:

So far the "lawless unilateralism" of the Bush administration, along with its failure to "deliver" Israeli concessions, has generated not the Arab nationalist backlash that the root-causes school predicted, but the end of the Libyan nuclear program, elections in Palestine and Iraq, a move toward elections in Egypt, and a nationalist uprising against Syrian occupation in Lebanon. These events would seem rather good evidence for the proposition that the Palestinian issue is only one of several important concerns in Middle East politics, not the pivot on which all regional events turn.

The Arab world is in the throes of a prolonged historical crisis, as its societies, economies, and polities struggle to overcome their various internal problems and make a successful transition to modernity. The Palestine-is-central dogma offers little insight into that crisis. Recognizing this, the Bush administration has wisely decoupled the Palestine question from the other major issues that bedevil Arab-American relations. So far this strategy has worked well, bringing benefits to both the United States and many Arabs. By putting the Palestinian issue in its proper perspective, it could even end up helping Palestinians and Israelis as well.


UPDATE: Also be sure to check out Stephen A. Cook's essay in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs on how to promote political reform in the Arab Middle East. The abstract:

If President Bush hopes to make good on his promise to bring democracy to the Arab world, he must rethink U.S. strategy, which overemphasizes civil society and economic development. Neither has caused much political liberalization in the Middle East, nor have more punitive measures. To promote Arab democracy, Washington needs a new approach: offering financial incentives for political reform.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (2)

Noam Chomsky, egomaniacal liar

Via Alina Stefanescu (who has a blog that's worth checking out), I stumbled across this Sunday Herald column by Alan Taylor on Noam Chomsky. The most absurd bits:

We begin by talking about the piece in The American Prospect. “It’s the journal of what they modestly call ‘the decent left’,” he says, oozing contempt. “It’s kind of moderate social democrat and they see themselves as embattled. You know, caught between two powerful forces which are crushing them. One is Dick Cheney, representing the White House, the Pentagon, one of the most powerful forces in history, and the other one – an equal and opposite force – is me. Do you think any intellectual or academic in history has ever received such praise? I mean, it’s way beyond the Nobel Prize. I already got someone to put it on the website. It tells you something about their attitudes. They’re pathetic, frightened, cowardly little people.”

Interesting, I note, that though his face is on the magazine’s cover, his name is nowhere to be seen in the piece. “Oh, no, no, no,” Chomsky says, grinning at my naivety, “you can’t mention it. You can’t mention anything. You can’t read anything. All you can do is report gossip . So you heard some gossip saying that I was in favour of Pol Pot or I support Osama bin Laden. That I’m in favour of [Slobodan] Milosevic. And then you heard it at a dinner party so it must be true."....

Chomsky, one suspects, could continue in this vein ad nauseam. Even now, at an age when most people would rather be in a gated Florida compound than constantly locking horns with the establishment, he persists in banging his head against closed doors. In the US, he is either a pariah or a prophet, “a kind of modern-day soothsayer”, according to his biographer Robert Barsky.

“Unlike many leftists of his generation,” says Barsky, “Chomsky never flirted with movements or organisations that were later revealed to be totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary, anti-revolutionary, and elitist … He has very little to regret. His work, in fact, contains some of the most accurate analyses of this century.” (emphases added).

I'm not sure what Barsky and Chomsky are smoking, but my information about the latter's flirtation with totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary movements comes from several sources. Click here and here to read about Chomsky's errors of omission and comission with regard to the Khmer Rouge. Click here to read about Chomsky's bizarre theory of why the U.S. supported the Bosnian Muslims. And then there's Stefan Kanfer's takedown of Chomsky from the Summer 2002 City Journal:

[Chomsky] wrote the introduction to a book by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson. Memoire en Defense maintains that Hitler’s death camps and gas chambers, even Anne Frank’s diary, are fictions, created to serve the cause of American Zionists. That was too much for Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who challenged fellow leftist Chomsky to a debate. In the debate, Dershowitz keyed in on the fact that Chomsky had described Faurisson’s conclusions as “findings,” and claimed that they grew out of “extensive historical research.” But as numerous scholars had shown, Faurisson was not a serious scholar at all, but rather a sophist who simply ignored the mountain of documents, speeches, testimony, and other historical evidence that conflicted with his “argument.” Dershowitz noted that Chomsky also wrote the following: “I see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence of gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust.”

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

So how's Iraqification going, part II

As a follow-up to my previous post on the question of transfering police and security functions to Iraqis, it's worth linking and quoting from Spencer Ackerman's Iraq'd blog. Ackerman -- hardly a fan of the administration's Iraq policy in the past -- was a huge fan of the raid on foreign insurgents that took place yesterday.

Why is Ackerman in such a good mood about this raid?:

It's hard to overstate how fantastic a development this is, but let's try. I wrote last December about insurgent overconfidence. Is this ever a case in point! Insurgents have had their bloodiest successes in urban areas. Establishing training camps in remote locations plays to the strengths of the U.S. military and its Iraqi proteges by offering discrete targets to be wiped off the face of the earth, without the prospect of civilian casualties to inflame the sensibilities of the broader Iraqi population. What's more, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, an intelligence tip came from nearby residents about the precise location of the camp, indicating a disgust for the jihadists in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. (We've seen this from civilians before in areas devoid of U.S. troops that the jihadists infest.) And not only did the police commandos lead the raid, they fought for hours despite taking casualties. (Though not many: According to The New York Times, Iraqi commandos went in massively, with a force of between 500 and 700. Seven were killed and six wounded, which should say something about their training and fighting prowess.)

A quick word about the politics of the raid. The apparent isolation of the jihadists from Sunnis in the area is one the most hopeful signs we've gotten yet from Iraq. At the risk of succumbing to wishful thinking, it suggests a fracturing of the insurgency, which is crucial to victory, might be within sight.


posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Random Schiavo thought

As the Terry Schiavo case wends its way through the federal court system, there's a thought that keeps nagging at me. Ostensibly, the motivation behind the congressional and presidential decision to intervene was to preserve and broaden the "culture of life," to use the term of art. The March 17th presidential statement essentially makes this argument:

The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues. Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life. Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected - and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.

This is my nagging thought -- could it be possible that making a federal case out of Terry Schiavo actually shrinks the culture of life? I wonder after reading this Chicago Tribune story by Bonnie Miller Rubin:

The wrenching debate over Terri Schiavo has made many people wonder if they can be sure their loved ones would carry out their wishes in a similar situation.

In Schiavo's case, both sides say they are acting as she would want. But without written documents, no one can know for sure, which is precisely why some legal experts are finding themselves busier than usual.

"We've had quite an increase in calls," said John Wank, acting director and general counsel of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, an agency that provides adult guardianship for people who did not appoint their own guardians. "A lot of folks are wondering if what happened in Florida could happen here. And if so, what can they do to prevent such a tragedy?"

Similarly, KWTX in Florida reports an explosion of interest in living wills:

As many as 75 percent of adults in the U.S. have not prepared written directives for their families to follow in the even they become medically incapacitated, experts say, but the publicity surrounding the legal battle over Terri Schiavo in Florida has sparked new interest in such living wills....

A Tallahassee-based agency, Aging with Dignity, has created a living will known as the “Five Wishes,” and has been flooded with orders for the document as the Schiavo case began to make headlines.

The group is sending out more than 2,000 living wills a day and has distributed 1 million copies since the legal fight over Schiavo’s fate burst into the headlines in October 2003.

"We get requests saying, 'We have seen what happened in the Schiavo case and above all, we don't want to see that same tragedy repeat itself in our family,'" Malley said.

Neither of these news stories is definitive. However, if this case has prompted a marked increase in the number of people specifying when they do not want heroic measures used to extend their biological life, then by their actions the Bush administration and both houses of Congress will have retarded rather than extended the culture of life.

Just a thought.

UPDATE: Many comentators, commenters and e-mailers have pointed out that feeding and hydration tubes are not normally thought of as "heroic measures" -- which is true but only underscores my point. If it turns out that the Schiavo case triggers a backlash among most Americans, more people might codify living wills or other legal documents that go beyond the denial of DNRs and heroic measures, and ban additional treatments that are accepted within the medical profession as routine and justifiable.

FINAL UPDATE: This post was inspired in part by the ABC poll showing hostility to federal intervention in this matter. Mickey Kaus provides an excellent collection of links suggesting that the poll question was improperly framed. However, Mystery Pollster disagrees and points to additional polling that reinforces my original point.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (7)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Kofi Annan's publicist can't be happy

On Monday, Kofi Annan "urged world leaders Monday to implement the boldest changes to the United Nations in its 60-year history" according to the Associated Press. You can see for yourself by clicking on “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all.” On the plus side, it seems that Annan recognizes that the U.N. Human Rights Commission is a joke and wants to genuinely reform it.

On the other hand, Annan also says in one section of the report (paragraph #151) that, "The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world, but this fact is little known." To which I must reply, "BWA HA HA HA HA!!! " [Which single organization does more, smart guy?--ed. Well, there's NATO and the European Union for starters -- and before I got even close to the combined set of UN agencies, I'd throw in Mercosur, the Organization of American States, and even the World Trade Organization. To be charitable, I'll give the UN agencies a slight edge over ASEAN, but that's about it.]

However, regardless of the intrinsic merits of Annan's proposal, I'm thinking that this Financial Times story by Claudio Gatti might throw a monkey wrench into generating any policy momentum:

Kojo Annan, son of Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, received at least $300,000 from Cotecna, a Swiss inspection company awarded a contract ultimately worth about $60m under the Iraqi oil-for-food contract.

The amount was almost double the sum previously disclosed, but payments were arranged in ways that obscured where the money came from or whom it went to.

The discovery, in a joint investigation by Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, and the Financial Times, comes as the independent UN inquiry led by Paul Volcker into possible abuses within the oil-for-food programme prepares to publish a new report on this matter.

Glenn Reynolds has more links that will cause headaches for Annan's publicist.

posted by Dan at 09:35 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

Liveblogging the Brookings event

Click here to watch the live webcast of the Brookings Institution panel, "The Impact of the New Media." I'll be liveblogging this event, and to make life easier for the Brookings tech people, newer comments will be higher than the older ones. UPDATE: Now that it's over, I actually prefer doing it with newer comments below rather than above, so I've reconfigured it.

Let the liveblogging.... begin!!!

9:40 AM: OK, let's see.... coffee in mug, pajamas on body [He's liveblogging from home, thank you very much!!--ed.], editor now locked in closet [Mmmmmph!--ed.], earphones plugged in and on head to better hear the webcast, and a feeling of eager excitement that I've beaten my fellow livebloggers to the first post.... yes, yes, I believe I offically am a complete dweeb.

Still fifteen minutes to the Brooking panel itself... there needs to be a word for that soft murmur of voices that precedes any C-SPAN-like event. Readers are encouraged to post posibilities. 9:55 AM: A exclusive -- MUST CREDIT DANIELDREZNER.COM. Ana Marie Cox has chosen the teal shirt for today. That's teal, people. UPDATE: I'm informed that it's green... must be the camera.

10:02 AM: What, they haven't started yet? This would never happen at a University of Chicago faculty meeting!!!

10:07 AM: Let the games begin!!

10:10 AM: Interesting... Dionne points out that Atrios, Kos, Marshall, and Yglesias were invited to live-blog as well but declined... one wonders if this ties into this paper's observation that liberals are also less likely to link to each other. [UPDATE: to be fair, Marshall had a very important engagement this weekend.] Dionne also tries to roil waters by characterizing bloggers as "parasitic" on mainstream media. I prefer the word "symbiotic."

10:15 AM: So Cox is high on Robitussin... again. "Do bloggers make mistakes?" Cox says (paraphrasing), "Duh, yes, but since blogs aren't really a primary source of news, it's not as catastrophic as the MSM believes." Which is true -- but another difference is that bloggers can quickly correct factual errors.

10:20 AM: Shafer approvingly cites Jay Rosen's characterization of blogs as "distributed journalism."

10:23 AM: Jodie T. Allen confesses to being a "web addict"; earlier Shafer states that many journalists Technorati themselves to see who's commenting on their writings.

10:27 AM: Allen makes a shrewd point about the faltering economic model of newspapers... and it's not just bloggers that are threatening them. She frets about the closing of overseas bureaus, which could lead to a decline in factual reporting, because "opinions are a lot cheaper than facts." However, here's the thing -- bloggers often function as superb stringers. The tsunami disaster allowed many bloggers to provide on-the-spot reporting from a breaking news event. Of more concern is whether bloggers would be able to match reporters in reporting on, say, opaque givernments.

10:30 AM: "Blogging is traditional; podcasting is new media" Sigh.... Mickey Kaus is right--we've jumped the shark.

10:31 AM: Dionne is weirdly.... sexy when he reads Not that there's anything wrong with that!!

10:32 AM: Hmmm..... Sullivan has the sniffles, Ana Marie Cox has the sniffles.... no, let's not go there.

10:34 AM: Ah, real news -- Sullivan says that as he grew more critical of the administration, his fundraising drives produced lower yields -- from $80,000 to $20,000 to $12,000. This is something I'd like to see the panelists discuss -- to what extent will the lure of large sums of money (by blogger standards) act as an ideological straight-jacket for prominent bloggers?

10:38 AM: You know Internet journalism is getting old when Shafer and Sullivan reminisce about the good old days of... 1996.

10:40 AM: Sullivan makes a key point -- for bloggers to be effective, they must be "pariahs." The fact is, the medisphere can be a clubby place, both within itself and between reporters and politicos. Will bloggers get sucked into this vortex as well?

10:41 AM: Cox uses the phrase "circle jerk" at Brookings.... somewhere, Richard Nixon's ghost is wondering why he ever thought of firebombing the place.

10:43 AM: Hey, E.J.!! The problem with Kos was not that he raised money for Dems, it was that he took money for consulting for Dems as well..... though I do believe this particular kerfuffle was overblown, since he admitted this from day one.

10:48 AM: "People are still fact-oriented," according to Allen -- even among Deaniacs.

10:50 AM: FYI, here are the specific links to other livebloggers: Ruy Teixeira, Ed Morrissey, and Laura Rozen; Trevino and Cole appear to be MIA. UPDATE: Here's Cole's post -- Trevino never bothered to post.

10:52: Someone who works for the Center for Public Integrity says that many blogs promote slander and libel.,.. as opposed to the Center for Public Integrity, which never issues misleading press releases. Seriously, Shafer and Cox shoot this down pretty effectively -- because there are costs to royally screwing things up.

10:58 AM: Dionne points out that blogs can foster the spread of rumor and slander faster than traditional media... except that blogs also make this spread much more transparent. The counterfactual is not just traditional media, but the spread of urban legends via private e-mails and listservers. The best example of this was the claim that the exit polls were correct and Kerry really won the election. Without blogs and other Internet media, this rumor would have just festered -- because of blogs, these accusations got quickly aired and quickly falsified.

11:00 AM: Sullivan points out that bloggers are much harsher to each other than to any public figure -- I have no idea what he's talking about. UPDATE: Dionne mentions this comment -- I am so inside the Beltway right now. Now I have to go and buy one of those Blackberry thingmabobs.

11:02 AM: Props to the guy who called the comments section of blogs a "cacophony of crap" -- you know he'd been up all night honing that phrase. Seriously, I do think there's a scaling problem with comments section -- the bigger the blog, the greater the percentage of crap. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about this.

11:07: What does it say that I'm an avid blog-readers and writer, but any discussion of talk radio and the fairness doctrine puts me to sleep? In other news, it appears to be standing room only in the room. And let's have a shout-out to those twentysomething interns who have to get those mikes to the people in the room!!

11:11 AM: Sullivan said, "hetero".... heh.

11:15 AM: Cox thinks it's useless to distinguish between "media" and "journalism." I'd rephrase -- there is a difference between journalism reporting and commentary, and blogs overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) practice the latter.

11:18 AM: Sullivan thinks there should be no schools for journalists, and that the "interns of the future" are those who are writing blogs in college. Matthew Yglesias has no idea what Sullivan's talking about.

11:24 AM: Ratner is harping on the economics of journalism, and asking whether bloggers will reduce the ability of media institutions to invest in reporting. I understand ratner's concern, but it seems to me this applies more to investigative journalism than most other sections of the media. For example, does journalism really have a comparative advantage over an expert blogger when a think tank or a research institute, for example, issues a press release?

11:27 AM: Sullivan points out that bloggers provide hyperlinked footnotes, which the New York Times op-ed page does not.

11;28 AM: A questioner asks what happens if a blogger receives an e-mail informing them that they're wrong? In my case it depends on whether the e-mailer has their facts correct as well. I've found that about two-thirds of the time the dispute is more over my interpretation of facts rather than the facts themselves. The others -- hell, yes, I'll post a correction. I'm not thrilled about it, but it's happened enough so that I'm used to it.

11:30 AM: Sullivan says blogs are a new form of literature. Great -- I want my own Pulitzer Prize now, dammit!!

11:33 AM: Sullivan has blog insurance??!!!

11:34 AM: Click here to see Ryan Sager's New York Post column discussing the Pew sponsorship of research into campaign finance reform that the panelists are discussing. Key section:

The tape — of a conference held at USC's Annenberg School for Communication in March of 2004 — shows Treglia expounding to a gathering of academics, experts and journalists (none of whom, apparently, ever wrote about Treglia's remarks) on just how Pew and other left-wing foundations plotted to create a fake grassroots movement to hoodwink Congress.

"I'm going to tell you a story that I've never told any reporter," Treglia says on the tape. "Now that I'm several months away from Pew and we have campaign-finance reform, I can tell this story."

That story in brief:

Charged with promoting campaign-finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy: 1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms, 2) pay for a handful of "experts" all over the country with foundation money and 3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform.

"The target audience for all this activity was 535 people in Washington," Treglia says — 100 in the Senate, 435 in the House. "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot — that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."

11:40 AM: Nell Minow (sp?) asks two good questions: a) Whether the blogs can do anything that adds value in discussing the Schiavo case; and b) the dearth of women plitical bloggers with lots o' traffic and links.

On the first point, I do think that bloggers serve two useful purposes -- a barometer of public opinion, and an opportunity to discuss specific issues raised by this case -- the legal and medical questions.

On the second point, I'm working on a large post which I'll inflict on people later in the week.

11:51 AM: Ruy has the best one-sentence summary of the event: "an interesting but not cutting-edge event."

11:54 AM: On the role of blogs elsewhere, do be sure to check out my Foreign Policy essay with Henry Farrell, "Web of Influence." Sullivan is correct that blogs can be a subversive tool in repressive societies -- but authoritarian governments are learning how to respond with brutal but appallingly effective tactics (link via Glenn Reynolds)

11:56 AM: Allen says opinion journalism are like "thumb-sucking," and that women don't like the taste of their thumbs. Must.... resist.... savage mockery of metaphor.

11:58 AM: Dionne gets the first Nazi reference in -- and after an hour and fift-eight minutes of discusion about blogs. That has to be a record for the longest period of time before Godwin's Law kicks in.

12:03 PM: Ana Marie Cox bravely calls for a moratorium of panels on blogs.... oh, sure, now that she's hit her premier frequent-flyer status via blog conferences, she wants to shut down the ravy train.

12:06 PM: That's a wrap.... and thank God, because I desperately need to go to the bathroom.

LAST UPDATE: Here's a link to the full transcript.

posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, March 21, 2005

How I'm spending tomorrow morning

What better way to spend a Tuesday morning (10-12 Eastern time) that to liveblog a Brookings Institution panel!!

[Was that, like, a real question or a rhetorical one? Because with the right person, I can think of an infinite combination of activities that might be superior--ed. It was a rhetorical question.]

Here's the deal:

Newspaper readership and television audiences are on the decline while the popularity of blogs and online news sources has steadily increased. The landscape of the American media is indisputably changing.

At this Brookings briefing, members of the "new" and "old" media will weigh in on the ever-evolving role of the press and the future of journalism. The discussion will focus on new mediums and practices in journalism and what impact these have had—and will continue to have—on the role and credibility of the traditional American media. In keeping with the spirit of this event, the discussion will be webcast and will be "live-blogged" by several prominent bloggers. Panelists will take questions from the audience and via e-mail following their remarks.

The panelists include Jodie T. Allen (Senior Editor, Pew Research Center), Ana Marie Cox (, Ellen Ratner (White House Correspondent, Talk Radio News Service), Jack Shafer (Editor-at-Large, Slate), and Andrew Sullivan

The livebloggers other than myself are Juan Cole (Informed Comment), Ed Morrissey (Captain's Quarters), Laura Rozen (War and Piece), Ruy Teixeira (Donkey Rising), and Josh Trevino (

Be sure to tune in tomorrow.

UPDATE: My live-blogging post is here.

posted by Dan at 06:35 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's Iraqification going?

Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies:

Country by country, the coalition is wilting from such uninspired leadership from the United States. Once Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Netherlands finish jumping ship, the U.S. percentage of the dubious Iraq mission will creep to 90 percent from 85 percent. Italy is pulling out because it sees no exit strategy. The coalition of the willing is no longer willing to accept America's rosy scenario on Iraq.

Jackson cites this Government Accountability Office report detailing the difficulties the United States is having with reconstituting Iraqi security forces. From the abstract:

U.S. government agencies do not report reliable data on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped. As of March 2005, the State Department reported that about 82,000 police forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and about 62,000 military forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Defense have been trained and equipped. However, the reported number of Iraqi police is unreliable because the Ministry of Interior does not receive consistent and accurate reporting from the police forces around the country. The data does not exclude police absent from duty. Further, the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and body armor....without reliable reporting data, a more capable Iraqi force, and stronger Iraqi leadership, the Department of Defense faces difficulties in implementing its strategy to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq.

Sounds like Iraqification is not going well. However, two press reports from inside Iraq suggest that in fact progress has been made. John F. Burns reports in the New York Times that the transfer of duties from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces has helped in one Baghdad neighborhood:

When most roads in central Baghdad are choked with traffic, there is rarely more than a trickle of vehicles on Haifa Street. At the day's height, a handful of pedestrians scurry down empty sidewalks, ducking into covered walkways that serve as sanctuaries from gunfire - and as blinds for insurgent attacks in one of Iraq's most bitterly contested battle zones....

In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity.

But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed.

American military engineers, frustrated elsewhere by insurgent attacks, are moving ahead along Haifa Street with a $20 million program to improve electricity, sewer and other utilities. So far, none of the work sites have been attacked, although a local Shiite leader who vocally supported the American projects was assassinated on his doorstep in January.

But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country's own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy.

Last month, an Iraqi brigade with two battalions garrisoned along Haifa Street became the first homegrown unit to take operational responsibility for any combat zone in Iraq. The two battalions can muster more than 2,000 soldiers, twice the size of the American cavalry battalion that has led most fighting along the street. So far, American officers say, the Iraqis have done well, withstanding insurgent attacks and conducting aggressive patrols and raids, without deserting in large numbers or hunkering down in their garrisons.

If Haifa Street is brought under control, it will be a major step toward restoring order in this city of five million, and will send a wider message: that the insurgents can be matched, and beaten back....

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished.

"Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But an overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

Meanwhile, Time's Christopher Allbriton reports on the growing professionalism of The Iraqi Special Forces Brigade (ISOF):

Two years since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. is scrambling to train and equip a new Iraqi army to take over combat duties and pave the way for a reduction in the size of the U.S. troop presence. After a slow start, the training program appears to be picking up momentum: last week the Pentagon announced plans to trim the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 150,000 to 105,000 by early next year, a move that reflects the improved capabilities of the Iraqi forces. The top commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, said that "very much sooner rather than later, Iraq will be able to provide for its own security."

....While their numbers are few, Iraqi special forces have assumed a bigger role in sensitive counter-insurgent operations, often acting as the lead teams in raids and rescue missions. In some cases, Iraqi units have used intelligence gleaned from locals to identify their own low-level targets, and then execute small raids on their own. Trained by Task Force Pioneer, a unit drawn from a support company from the U.S. Special Operating Force's 10th Group, the emerging Iraqi commando units have impressed U.S. commanders with their combat performance and bolstered confidence that Iraqis can keep the insurgents at bay on their own. "We can step away more now," says the U.S. commander of Task Force Pioneer, who, like all of the special forces in this story, cannot be named. "It's about 50-50."

....Advisors from the U.S. Green Berets say the Iraqi special-ops teams have suffered none of the problems of desertion in the face of enemy fire seen in most of the regular Iraqi units. None have refused to fight, they say, and rates of those absent without leave are well below other forces. "It's unbelievable, but it's all down to the espirit de corps," says the Americans' Executive Officer.

Putting Iraqis on the front lines, U.S. officials say, is yielding results in the shadow war against the insurgents. When the key to unraveling insurgencies is denying the rebels the support of the population, putting an Iraqi face on the offensives is vital. It also helps avoid blunders. Often targeting information is slightly off, with troops raiding the wrong house. Local Iraqis are loath to point the Americans in the right direction. "They're not scared of Americans, but when an Iraqi in a ski mask confronts them they talk a lot more, and they're more likely to say, 'He's not here but lives across the road,'" says Task Force Pioneer's commander. During the raid on Tamimi's safehouse, the joint U.S.-Iraqi team hauled off Tamimi and another insurgent suspected of being a key bombmaker. The other men upstairs were left behind, a mark of the more "surgical" style of business the Green Berets are hoping the Iraqis can deliver them, blunting locals' perceptions of Americans as brutish and arbitrary. "In the past, we'd have scooped them all up," says an American with the CTF, "but we only took the guys our Iraqis said were dirty.

At this rate, the departure of other coalition country forces from Iraq is less a sign of failed American leadership than a sign that they can hand over their duties to the Iraqis themselves. Everyone agrees that this is the best possible exit option.


posted by Dan at 02:49 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (2)

Open Schiavo thread

Feel free to comment here on the federal government's decision to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. I was paying zero attention to this until I read the AP story this morning. My first response to it is identical to Orin Kerr's:

Missing from the press coverage I have read is any sense of the merits of the federal case enabled by the new law. As I understand it, a federal court will now review the merits of the state court decision ordering the withdrawal of the feeding tube to see if the withdrawal satisfies federal statutory and constitutional law. Does any one have a sense of what the federal court is likely to do? Are there obvious constitutional problems with the state court order, and if so, under what theories and supported by what precedents?

Howard Bashman thinks the law as passed and signed is constitutional but makes no comment on what the district court judge would rule. Bashman also provides a welter of links to media reaction.

Andrew Sullivan raises a valid point about what this means for modern-day conservatism:

So it is now the federal government's role to micro-manage baseball and to prevent a single Florida woman who is trapped in a living hell from dying with dignity. We're getting to the point when conservatism has become a political philosophy that believes that government - at the most distant level - has the right to intervene in almost anything to achieve the right solution. Today's conservatism is becoming yesterday's liberalism.

Comment away!!! As Mickey Kaus says, "Our society is going to have to have this out at some point--why not now?"

UPDATE: Dahlia Lithwick goes medieval on the federal intervention in Slate:

You can put aside the doctrine of federalism for Terri Schiavo, and the principles of separation of powers, and comity, and of deference to finality and the rule of law. But you'd want to be certain, on the day you do so, that what you're sacrificing them for some concrete legal value that matters a whole lot more. Subordinating a centuries-old culture of law to an amorphous, legally meaningless "culture of life," is not a decision to be taken over a weekend.

posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (71) | Trackbacks (1)