2010 - %3, December

Who Will Rid Us Of These Meddlesome Internets?

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 11:00 AM PST

Atrios is amazed at the almost universal condemnation of WikiLeaks from mainstream journalists — a group of people who, of course, rely heavily on leaks both classified and unclassified to do their daily business:

It isn't exactly the same thing, but moments like this I'm reminded of a time years ago when I was talking at a conference about internets and stuff to a not entirely plugged in audience and a man stood up and said something like, "You mean, people can just say whatever they want on the internet? Don't we need to do something about that?"

I guess you shouldn't make too much out of a single comment, but this is astonishingly similar to something that happened to me. It was several years ago, when blogs were still sort of newish, and I was invited to speak to an informal group of West LA liberals about what the whole blog thing was about. I didn't end up saying much because the first two speakers pretty much said everything that needed saying, but I remember being flabbergasted when the whole concept finally sunk in and one lady in the audience asked (paraphrasing from memory), "So anybody can just say anything? Isn't that dangerous? Shouldn't somebody be responsible for all this?"

It left me slackjawed enough that I couldn't really think of a response, but I think Eugene Volokh stepped in to say something soothing. In fairness, I suppose comments like this might simply be poorly phrased concerns that loudmouths with no expertise and no real commitment to fairness are getting a lot of attention they might not deserve, which is surely a reasonable attitude. Except, of course, that this phenomenon predates the internet by about ten thousand years and has been an ever-present part of our modern media lives ever since Rush Limbaugh became the leader of the Republican Party. Good times.

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The Republican Agenda

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 10:33 AM PST

Matt Yglesias speaks truth here:

One of the weirder things about the discussion in the media during the 2010 election campaign was people were acting like there was some big mystery about the likely policy direction of the Republican Party. But we’re not talking about a 1952 scenario where a group of people who’ve been out of office for a long time suddenly come back. There was a Republican congress from 1995 until 2006. There was a Republican President from 2001 until 2008. We had unified GOP control in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 plus most of 2001. The agenda was cutting taxes and making regulatory supervision of various things as lax and business friendly as possible.

When the dust settles, I think it's pretty safe to say that will be the Republican agenda in 2011 as well.

He Said, She Said

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 10:21 AM PST

David Sessions reads a New York Times piece about end-of-life consultations, which will be funded by Medicare starting on January 1, and notes that the only dissenting view in the article comes from Elizabeth Wickham, a conservative activist with no credentials to speak of, no real influence within the conservative movement, and a history of extremism. He's unimpressed:

Here is another unfortunate instance of the Times throwing in a social conservative to maintain “balance.” Look through the paper’s archives and you’re sure to find dozens of iterations of this formula, on issues ranging from abortion to women’s health to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After the story lays out the expert or scientific consensus and the generally agreed-upon facts, a random social conservative — often one without any credentials on the issue or with a trail of insane statements to their name — will be trotted out to dispute them.

....My point here is not, of course, that dissenting or conservative viewpoints should be banned from the New York Times. In fact, this sort of drive-by citation of ideologues does a disservice both to conservatives when they actually have legitimate points and to readers who want to consider alternate perspectives. Wickham’s quote was transparently included just to establish “balance,” and readers are left without any clear idea of whether there is reason to doubt the consensus view. If there is serious disagreement, the reporter should find a credible source and thoroughly explain his or her position. If a prominent Republican or conservative leader vowed to fight the measure, then make note of it. But if there is no serious opposition, or if the serious opposition is dealing in paranoid cant, then I’d love to read a newspaper with the balls to say so.

I suppose there's a liberal version of this too, and you can certainly make an argument that news organizations shouldn't restrict themselves solely to comments from major politicians and big national interest groups. Still, Sessions has a point. Is there really any serious opposition to end-of-life counseling? Does anyone in Congress plan to do something about this? Does Elizabeth Wickham speak for much of anyone, or is she the activist equivalent of digging up a blog comment somewhere because you can't actually find anyone more important to provide the comment you're looking for? That would be good to know.

The Housing Market's Double Dip

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 10:02 AM PST

The LA Times greets my return to blogging with some grim news this morning:

Prices of previously owned single-family homes fell 0.8% in October from the same time last year, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas. The closely watched index fell 1.3% from September to October as six metro areas hit fresh lows.

"It is grim, baby. We don't see any basis for sustained price increases in 2011," said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of online brokerage Redfin. "Prices are going to be in the doldrums all year, and usually you look for housing to lead the overall recovery, but that seems doubtful."

We're now starting to see housing data that fully reflects the end of the end of the housing tax credit earlier this year, and sure enough, prices have started to fall again. Ezra Klein points us to Gary Shilling for more, and I find Shilling partly persuasive and partly not. However, the bulk of his argument is sound, especially his observation that housing inventory is still abnormally high:

This huge and growing surplus inventory of houses will probably depress prices considerably from here, perhaps another 20% over the next several years. That would bring the total decline from the first quarter 2006 peak to 42%.

This may sound like a lot, but it would return single-family house prices, corrected for general inflation and also for the tendency of houses to increase in size over time, back to the flat trend that has held since 1890.

I guess, in the end, I'm not quite sure if I'm that pessimistic. But I'd say that a further decline of 10% is almost inevitable, and 20% is certainly quite possible. What that does to the broader economy is still a question mark.

Best "Year in National Insecurity" Ever!

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 4:58 AM PST

Looking for a lively retrospective on the year's biggest defense stories? Done. Go on with your bad self, Crispin Burke:

"2010: The Year We Make Contact With Some Pakistani Shopkeeper"

An Imbalanced TARP Equation

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Of late, it's been mostly good news for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The big banks have paid the government back (with interest). Even AIG announced that banks have agreed to lend it more than $4 billion to pay the Fed back for bailing it out back in September 2008. But it's a different story for community lenders.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 29, 2010

Wed Dec. 29, 2010 3:30 AM PST

A soldier mans a security outpost at a construction site. Active duty and reserve component Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalions 40, 18 and 26 secure and fortify a remote combat outpost on the eastern edge of Khavejeh Molk, Afganistan. The village is located approximately 25 miles north of Kandahar and is being used as a patrol base for the U.S. Army 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment. Combined efforts by joint forces will restrict movement of Taliban insurgents and help secure self-governing efforts in Afghanistan. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Watkins

DADT and National Security: A New Year's Resolution

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 3:15 AM PST

This is as good a place as any to clear the air on something that's troubled me for a few weeks...and to announce a New Year's resolution. I enjoy the privilege (and responsibility) of writing about military and international affairs for Mother Jones' readers. Many issues fit under that umbrella: the continued costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan; the demilitarization of American society, the transition of combat veterans to civilian life, and the civil-military gap; WikiLeaks' impact and implications for future policy; persistent threats, real or perceived, to US security beyond our current conflicts; how we as progressives square our values—from human rights to social and economic justice—with the pressures posed by domestic politics and international conflict.

Yet in the past few months, my attention has been dominated by one story: the full integration of gay and lesbian Americans into the armed forces and the national culture at large. It should be a minor story. The empirical arguments against gays have been dispatched by the facts time and again. The moral and religious objections, too, have been raised and soundly rejected—by the White House, by the Pentagon, by the troops themselves, and by an overwhelming majority of the citizenry. And so I'm a little flummoxed that so much of our time continues to be consumed in covering and challenging the low, petty, frankly bigoted voices in the small but dedicated anti-gay camp.

In 2011, we hope to spend more time reporting and commenting on the many facets of American—and human—security. But the transition to a military and civilian cultures that recognize LGBT equality will be a long, bumpy one, and we'll keep looking for ways to cover it.

Which leads to the other resolution: inviting you to be a bigger part of the process. What national security issues concern you the most? Where do you think the media are falling down on the job? Whether it's DADT, or leaked cables, or wounded warriors, or cunning contractors, or something altogether different, we want your input. Send your tips, comments, blog posts, or anything else my way, and I'll integrate the best contributions into our work here. After all, we're a nonprofit here: It's your magazine. And it's your country.

Soldier Vows to Quit Army Over Gays

| Tue Dec. 28, 2010 11:21 PM PST

Well, it's happened. The sky has fallen, the enemy has broken through the gates, and the empire's vast, gritty disintegration has begun: Some dude in some National Guard unit has vowed to leave the service, rather than work alongside the gays. Check out the text of his resignation letter below, after the jump.

According to a story called "The Gaying of America" on World Net Daily—the bastion of right-wing watchdog journalism that gave you birtherism—comes this revelation: "President Obama's repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy is already damaging the U.S. military." The evidence? A lieutenant colonel who doesn't want to be named, serving in an Army National Guard battalion in a state that wasn't identified, has tendered his resignation over the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And he says he knows of other officers who plan to follow suit. Clearly, all is lost. We might as well roll the tanks out of Baghdad and Afghanistan now and help the Taliban get on with their socialist community organizing or whatever:

Cryptome Exposes CIA Hypnosis Programs

| Tue Dec. 28, 2010 1:51 PM PST

Before there was WikiLeaks, there was Cryptome. (And it's probably a safe bet that after WikiLeaks is long gone, there will still be a Cryptome.) Via Spencer Ackerman at Wired's Danger Room, here's a pair of memos, posted to the intelligence-secrets website, that show the CIA was all up in that Inception-type business in the Cold War: using deep hypnosis to create unwitting double agents and implant secret communications in their brains, where they can't be intercepted! Cue evil laugh! "I assure you, it will work," the agency's mesmerism cheerleader writes. Full docs are below the jump.