2006 - %3, August

New Kid on the Blog: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

| Mon Aug. 14, 2006 12:40 PM EDT

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Talk about your blogfathers! Iranian President Ahmadinejad has taken to blogging. As relayed by the Guardian's Brian Whittaker (the site is down at this writing), the first (and so far only) entry is pretty ho-hum. (No "Wanker of the Day," no "Yglesias Award," no Bush-bashing, no "Cheers and Jeers," no "Why oh why can't we have a better...Council of Guardians?" -- at least not yet.)

After my birth - the fourth one in the family," Ahmadinejad writes, "my family was under more pressures.

My father had finished six grade of elementary school. He was a hard-bitten toiler blacksmith, a pious man who regularly participated in different religious programs. Even though never the dazzling look of the world was appealing to him, but the pressure of the life caused that he decided to migrate to Tehran when I was one year old. We chose to live in south central part of Tehran where is called Pamenar.

He concludes, teasingly.

I will continue this topic later on as it took long in the beginning. From now onwards, I will try to make it shorter and simpler. With hope in God, I intend to wholeheartedly complete my talk in future with allotted fifteen minutes.

Whittaker is unmoved.

All this underlines the fact that Ahmadinejad doesn't really get the point of blogging. A presidential blog is almost a contradiction in terms: blogs represent the voice of ordinary people, not politicians who are pretending to be ordinary people. And of course ordinary people who blog in Iran and other parts of the Middle East risk ending up in jail.

I say give him time to, you know, find his voice.

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Terror Arrest Timing: White House Spins Lamont Victory at Expense of Our Safety

| Sun Aug. 13, 2006 8:36 PM EDT

The Tattered Coat has a great post on how the Bush administration forced the timing of the recent London terror plot arrests. Analyzing reporting done by NBC and others, TTC's Matt notes:

This goes way beyond what we understood previously — that the Bush Administration knew about the arrests ahead of time, and timed a PR offensive against the Democrats around it.
It turns out that it was the other way around: the Bush Administration orchestrated the timing of the arrests to coordinate them with the PR offensive, which attacked Democrats after Ned Lamont's victory in the Connecticut primary.
For the GOP, the short-term political importance of getting the Lamont victory, and the developing sense that America had fully turned against the Iraq War, off the news was reason enough to disrupt an active terror investigation. The disruption hurt the legal case against the terrorists — it will be much harder to convict them without passports or airline tickets. The GOP was so insistent on the timing that they threatened to "render" the lead suspect if the British did not comply with their wishes.
The Republicans, in other words, once again played politics with national security, and hurt anti-terrorism efforts as they did so.
They cannot be trusted to protect us from the threat of terrorism because — to paraphrase The Downing Street Memo — they fix terror investigations around smear campaigns.

And it's not just liberal bloggers who won't be fooled again. This morning I heard a commentator on the (delightfully) sleepy show CBS Sunday Morning (the one with all the suns) say pretty much the same thing. Lyndon Johnson once said he'd knew he'd lost the country when he lost Walter Cronkite. Watch any show where reporters or anchors or pundits are allowed to deviate from the teleprompter, and it's becoming increasingly clear Bush has lost us all. Well, except for Charles Krauthammer. But then he yells at rabbis.


Memo to Lieberman: It's the Sanctimony, Stupid

| Sun Aug. 13, 2006 1:23 PM EDT

Lost in all the discussion over to what degree Ned Lamont's victory in the Connecticut Democratic primary does or does not indicate regarding

1) public opinion on the war
2) potential for a reprise of the Eugene McCarthy split in the Democratic Party
3) anti-incumbent fervor
4) Joementum

is perhaps the real reason Lieberman lost. He's sanctimonious. And he's opportunistic about his sanctimony.

Now I have no doubt that Lieberman is a religious man, who takes his faith seriously, and that his faith does inform his politics, making him more conservative than some in the DNC on some issues. But there's a difference between piety and sanctimony. As the editorial page of the New Hampshire Concord Monitor put it:

To say that Lieberman lost merely because of his steadfast support for the war oversimplifies the case. Lieberman has a strong sense of morality that unfortunately can spill over into righteousness and sanctimony. That side came out when he harshly chastised President Clinton over his affair with an intern. It came out again in December when he issued this warning: "It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be commander-in-chief for three more critical years, and in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."
Of late, Lieberman's sanctimony has reared its ugly head in his statements that Lamont voters had handed a victory to terrorists, and his self-righteous persistence in staying in the race over the wishes of his constituents and his party. Lieberman may keep his political career alive by going further down the path of sanctimony. Indeed, pundits are already speculating that if he wins as an independent and keeps his committee seats he could find himself as a key Senate tiebreaker, forcing both parties to kiss his ring.

Such an outcome would, no doubt, reinforce Lieberman's high opinion of himself. But I would argue that what Lieberman's primary loss might really augur is voter rejection of politicians who lecture us from on high, who wrap themselves in the flag and twist scripture, who are patronizing in their "trust us" statements, who offer no solutions other than their continued "leadership."

That would be a Joementum we could all get behind.

Is Al Qaeda Finished? No, Really

| Sun Aug. 13, 2006 2:16 AM EDT

James Fallows no doubt wishes his Atlantic piece (you can't read it here--subscription required) on why it's time to declare the war on terror over (because we won) had run, oh, just about any other time. But timing isn't everything, and Fallows--one of a vanishingly small number of big-name journalists who actually bother to go out and talk to people--impressively lays out what most people who follow Al Qaeda have been trying to say for some time (and are still saying in the wake of the London plot): Al Qaeda as the group that masterminded 9/11 hasn't existed since the war in Afghanistan, since its top operatives were killed or driven into hiding, since it lost the ability to freely communicate via cell phones or the Internet, to transfer money over international financial networks, etc. What exists now, as Peter Bergen's Mother Jones story on "The Wrong War" noted some time ago, is a loose confederation nominally inspired by the occasional Osama or al-Zawahiri tape, but mostly proceeding on the Environmental Liberation Front model (no overall comparison intended) of like-minded cells that claim affiliation with an ideological brand when it suits them. The problem is that thanks to current U.S. policy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, that unstructured network is growing larger and stronger every day, even in spite of its own mistakes (such as killing large numbers of Muslim civilians). Which is why Fallows is right: It's time to stop. Not stop going after terrorists, which is what the Brits were doing in investigating bomb plotters, but stop the "war" (meaning what, exactly?) on "terror" (ditto), and move on to what might actually make the world more secure.

It's All About Iran

| Sat Aug. 12, 2006 1:58 AM EDT

Is it starting to look like the administration has trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time? For weeks now the not-so-subtle message from the White House has been that Lebanon is all about Iran (must rein in Hezbollah in order to contain Iran's ambitions); now comes word from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq (and, lest we forget, the neocons' favorite Afghan long before all this war stuff started), that increased carnage in Iraq is also about Iran.

Iran is pressing Shiite militias here to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq said Friday. Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added.

This could keep going for a while. Oil prices? Iran. Climate heating up? Iran. Lieberman defeated? Iran, or maybe the terrorists... Read Bob Dreyfuss' Mother Jones piece here for one take on what the Iran focus is all about.

Katrina victims get finger-printed and photographed--not everyone is happy

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 10:30 PM EDT

Calling it "a little bit too much Department of Homeland Security," Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, criticized Louisiana's Road Home program for taking fingerprints and photographs of people applying for home loans. Ashdown's organization is known for its harsh criticism of Katrina fraud. Nevertheless, Ashdown said that contractors could accomplish their goals just as easily by asking for multiple forms of identification.

A spokeswoman for ICF International, the company hired by the state to help homeowners determine what kinds of grants and loans they need, called the procedure "minimally intrusive," and a spokesman for the Louisiana Division of Administration said that none of the applicants had complained about being finger-printed and photographed.

One can hardly imagine a homeless person who is living in a cramped trailer, a relative's crowded house or an out-of-state apartment to make waves when she is trying to get help with a loan. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin confirmed that outside of the application facility, people had indeed complained.

"They said it made them feel like a criminal when they were just trying to get help. One guy even said he was so taken aback that he asked them if they wanted some blood also."

ICF International maintains that using these procedures will not only expose fraud, but will cause fraudulent applicants to change their minds and not even bother with applying.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority has not yet made a decision as to whether the finger-printing and photographing will remain in place. The Louisiana ACLU has expressed a concern that the government could use the fingerprints and photographs for purposes unrelated to home loan applications, or that identity theft could be increased because of the process.

One hopes that if the state decides it is best to continue using this procedure, that the people doing the finger-printing and photographing are trained to carry out the procedures in a non-threatening way.

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Darfur: "From Really Bad to Catastrophic"

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 8:22 PM EDT

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"Peace" brings only war to Darfur.

"The signing of the peace agreement unfortunately took a lot of effort from large parts of the international community and very little after that in terms of monitoring, pushing for implementation and holding parties accountable," said Dave Mozersky, Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group.

But what the world has agreed to call peace, still looks very much like war.

In July Darfur saw the bloodiest month for the world's largest aid operation since the conflict began 3-1/2 years ago with eight humanitarian workers killed. Access to the 3.6 million dependent on aid is at its lowest ever level.

Government planes are again bombing rebel factions who rejected the deal, U.N. officials say. Rebel leader Minni Arcua Minnawi, who signed the accord, is accused of torturing his opposition, and other rebels have factionalised. A new alliance has declared renewed war with the government.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said in Geneva on Thursday: "It is going from really bad to catastrophic in Darfur."
(Reuters)

Click on the image for more information on the Darfur crisis.

Killing Endangered Species To Save Them?

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 7:56 PM EDT

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That's the thinking behind a program designed to sell a limited number of permits to hunters to help communities conserve indigenous populations of endangered sheep. Daniel Duane went on his first hunt a while ago and wrote about it for Mother Jones, an experience that made him re-think his notions about hunting. ("I felt privileged to be there and I did feel that at least in the one setting in which I participated, hunting could really be an extraordinary way to participate in the rhythms of life.") The radio show Living on Earth is rebroadcasting an interview with Dan this week. Check out the LOE website for more details.

Significant Drop in Risky Sex Among Teens?

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 7:44 PM EDT

According to a CDC study released today the number of US teenagers who have had sex and/or are sexually experienced is on the decline, and condom use is on the rise. The report finds that the proportion of high school students who are sexually experienced decreased by 13% from 1991 to 2005. The Washington Times is quick to point out that the percentage of students who said they had ever had sexual intercourse decreased 9%, from 54.1% in 1991 to 46.8% in 2005. Yet the paper fails to mention that since 2001, when the Bush Administration started funding and promoting abstinence only education in schools, the numbers are a wash -- 46.8% said they had ever had sex last year vs. 45.8% four years earlier, a neglible difference at best given the 3.3% margin of error.

In fact, the proportion of teens who had sex with four or more partners and those who had had sex within the preceding 3 months actually increased slightly from 2001 to 2005. Condom use was the only category with a statistically significant improvement with an increase in those four years, by 5% to nearly 63% of teens. Meaning those who are having sex--and the numbers seem to be remaining quite steady these days, are getting smarter about it.

19 Percent of 2004 Bush Voters Say They'll Vote Dem

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 7:24 PM EDT

Many Americans might not have things quite straight when it comes to WMD in Iraq, and there are those who don't know which state Kentucky Fried Chicken comes from, but large and swelling numbers are starting to get a clue about George W. Bush's administration.

Republicans determined to win in November are up against a troublesome trend — growing opposition to President Bush.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted this week found the president's approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May. His handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president's decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South.

More sobering for the GOP are the number of voters who backed Bush in 2004 who are ready to vote Democratic in the fall's congressional elections — 19 percent. These one-time Bush voters are more likely to be female, self-described moderates, low- to middle-income and from the Northeast and Midwest.

Two years after giving the Republican president another term, more than half of these voters — 57 percent — disapprove of the job Bush is doing. (AP)