MoonDawg's Den: May 2006

MoonDawg's Den

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not ready to make nice, but still ready to make money

Well the long holiday weekend is over, alas - but my Memorial Day weekend was full of beer, sun, and most importantly, remembrance. Upon returning to the office yesterday, I found that a friend had copied me on a letter she sent to Time magazine regarding their fawning cover story about the Dixie Chicks last week. My friend was particularly galled by Martie Maguire's generalizations about people who enjoy certain artists, e.g., Toby Keith (the Time article's author, Josh Tyrangiel, calls Keith a "brilliant redneck instigator" - this is objective journalism?).

Since Time is highly unlikely to print her missive, I will post it here for all:

I was particularly annoyed with the comments of Ms. Maguire stating "we don't want the type of fans who have Reba McEntire and Toby Keith in their disc changers - they limit what you can do."

For the record, I happen to have several country artists' CDs in my disc changer and CD collection, including Toby Keith. I also have the likes of U2, Sinatra, Elvis, Marvin Gaye and Pavarotti. In addition, I had the first two releases from the Dixie Chicks...which have made their way into the trash. I find it amusing that someone would think that because an individual has a few CDs in their collection that are labeled as country...that they don't "get it" - as she put it.

It seems to me that the only ones guilty of limiting what they can do, is the Dixie Chicks themselves. Freedom of speech is one thing, and I applaud it. But, her choice of words insulted me as a fan of all music genres and a consumer.

Ms. Maguire...I'm quite certain I'm not the one who doesn't "get it."


Anne Piercy-McHann

For those who may have forgotten, the Ditzy Twits caused a minor uproar in 2003 when Natalie Maines declared she was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas" - and did so in front of a foreign audience on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Fans were outraged, and radio stations pulled their music from the air in response.

But the controversy blew over after a while, when the band issued a half-hearted apology. Maines expressed her opinion, and fans expressed what they thought of that opinion via the marketplace - a nice exercise in free speech all around. So why is this story back after three years?

Apparently because they just released a new single, Not Ready to Make Nice, which is being characterized as a "a four-minute f___-you" to country fans. The Chicks, as the lyrics say, are "mad as hell" and "not ready to back down".

Back in 2003, Maines was asking fans to "Accept us. Accept an apology that was made." Now, three years later, all of the sudden they're "not ready to make nice". Could this belated indignation actually have been a calculated move to garner easy publicity for their new album? If so, it was a brilliant ploy. You can't go wrong with the liberal media by insulting country fans (those easily-instigated "rednecks") and therefore by extension, red-state America.

As the New York Times noted last week, "while the Dixie Chicks would love to position themselves as underdogs, the truth is that they have probably never been more beloved by the mainstream media."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jumping towards pandemic

It appears that the H5N1 virus may have made its first double jump in Indonesia last week, where a cluster outbreak of avian flu has killed seven out of eight members of an extended family in a north Sumatra village. According to the WHO, "All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness". Investigators have been unable to find a source for the outbreak in local poultry or other animals, which has been the method of transmission for nearly all human cases of avian influenza to date.

This means that the family members apparently contracted the disease from each other - i.e., the virus jumped from human to human. Some believe that H5N1 in Indonesia has made a triple-jump - H2H2H. But only members of this single village family have become ill, and fortunately this has not yet spread to the rest of the community - although we are still within the 7-10 day incubation period from last week's cases, so the situation still bears watching.

Smaller disease clusters with fatal cases have also appeared in West Java and Jakarta during the last coupe of weeks. If the Indonesian version of the virus is starting to mutate to a form easily passed between humans, it is very bad news indeed: the mortality rate for those infected with bird flu in Indonesia this month is at about 80%. Could Phase 4 be around the corner?

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Guard won't guard

My initial optimism about the announced deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border is unwarranted, it seems. The assistant SecDef, Paul McHale, says they will only be used in a support role, and will have no arrest powers:
The National Guard's border missions will include surveillance and reconnaissance, engineering support, transportation support, logistics support, vehicle dismantling, medical support, barrier and infrastructure construction, road building, and linguistics support, McHale said. He emphasized that Guard forces will play no role in the direct apprehension, custodial care or security associated with those who are detained by civilian law enforcement authorities.
Now I'm sure these support missions are valuable, but when President Bush tells people that 6,000 Guard troopers are going to be "deployed on the southern border", one would be under the impression that the troops were going to be, you know, on the southern border - and not sitting in ops centers or manning commo equipment in the vicinity of the border.

It's not like we have a lack of NG personnel to actually engage in serious border enforcement - of 444,000 available Guard troops, only 71,000 are deployed in the war on terror. What's lacking is the political will to let the Guard, guard.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Better late than never...

My apologies for lack of blogging recently - work and personal obligations have been taking my time, but the dust is now settling, thank goodness. Still a bit crazy for me around here, but just had to comment on the news that President Bush will deliver a major speech on immigration Monday night, possibly announcing a military deployment to the border - a move which some observers (like me) have been suggesting for months:
Officials told FOX News that there are ongoing discussions between the White House and lawmakers over the use of military and the National Guard to protect the border. White House adviser Karl Rove met with southern lawmakers this week about border security and the concept of using the National Guard.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The dictionary defines the word untenable as an adjective meaning "not able to be maintained or defended against attack or objection." The word is especially useful when discussing an argument or a position--ie. His thesis was untenable.

Now, I'm not giving a vocabulary lesson to appear superior or elitist (as many liberals are called). I'm just baffled by the right's arguments on leaks, and I want to be sure that I use the proper word to voice my confusion. The right's position is untenable--BIG TIME!

Garry and I have debated ad nauseam the Plame leak, and we have briefly discussed the leak of information regarding the NSA domestic spying program. We obviously see them a little differently. In response to my February 28 post about the possible national security effects of the NSA leak, Garry said:

This is why the administration is upset - unlike the disclosure of the name of a CIA desk jockey, this leak may have caused actual damage to national security. And unlike the Plame disclosure, the NSA leak was an actual, demonstrable violation of the Espionage Act. (emphasis mine)

He later says:

You ask do I "really believe that enough of a difference has been made in the alert level of al Qaeda operatives to make a difference?". My point was that even the possibility that the leak has raised their alertness and made them more careful could be damaging to our national security interests. We don't know whether there is any "credible evidence" of this or not - such information would be at a classification level above yours or mine. One thing is certain - there is no possibility that the leak has enhanced national security. (emphasis mine)

In response to my May 1st post about reports that Plame was working on nuclear proliferation in Iran when she was outed, Garry said:

[E]ven if true, would this not indicate that Plame was an analyst (propably [sic.] with the WINPAC section) instead of a field NOC? Shuster claims that without Plame at CIA, "our ability to track Iran's nuclear ambitions was damaged". Give me a break - there were no other desk jockeys at CIA to take her place?

I'd hardly say it was damaging for CIA to lose someone who actually thought it was a good idea to send a retired diplomat with zero field experience, zero proliferation experience, and zero investigative experience to a country that he hadn't served in for decades, to check out whether Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger
- regardless of whether that person was her husband or not. (emphasis mine)

I don't know if I'm the only one who sees the problem with this argument, but here we go. I apologize if I get long winded; brevity is not my strong point.

First, in both leaks, classified information was released to the press. I don't think that's disputable although Garry might argue that since he says the Plame leak was not a "demonstrable violation of the Espionage Act." So, let's put that one to rest now. Newsweek reported in February that

special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion.

In other words, her status was covert, and her identity was therefore classified. Whether she was a "desk jockey" as Garry and other conservatives try to paint it is irrelevant. Her name was classified, and it was released.

Second, both leaks apparently had a negative effect on national security. Garry's refusal to recognize the negative effects of the Plame leak astonish me, but let's examine his argument critically.

"[T]here were no other desk jockeys at CIA to take her place?"

Well Garry, there is absolutely no way to know this. However, I would put forth that Plame probably had sources that trusted her and access that cannot be obtained overnight. A CIA employee, even of an analyst (although she was a NOC), is not something that can be easily replaced. It's not like replacing the office secretary, which is how you make it sound.

Furthermore, throughout our debate you have made assumptions based on right-wing bloggers and idealogues that say that NOCs don't drive to Langley every day or sit at a desk or work on nuclear proliferation in Iran (You said that her work on Iran suggested that she was an analyst and not an agent). How do you know that? Where is that documented? Where does it say that a covert CIA agent's identity can be exposed if she sits at a desk?

My point is that the published evidence says that she was covert, that her name was classified. Any other suggestions are based on assumptions that cannot be proven by the information available. In other words, the position is untenable.

Now let's look at the damage caused by the NSA leak. Alberto Gonzalez said this about the effects of this leak:

I think, based on my experience, it is true - you would assume that the enemy is presuming that we are engaged in some kind of surveillance. But if they're not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.

For the sake of brevity, I won't comment on this except to say that its absurdity speaks volumes about the minuteness of the effect that the leak had. However, to be fair, I'll admit that's an assumption that I can't verify--ie. untenable.

Third, one of these leaks is defended under the Whistleblower's Act and one isn't. The Whistleblower's Act and the National Whistleblower Center are in place to protect public employees who reveal potentially illegal dealings that their organization is involved with.

The leakers in the NSA case were exposing potential wrong doing by the government, which has been vindicated by Republican senators who are seeking to introduce legislation to "bring the program within the law." I interpret that to mean that the program was outside of the law, and the law is being changed to remedy that. I disagree with the premise of changing the law to shield the president, but that's just my opinion. In this case, the whistleblowers had reasonable evidence to suggest wrong doing, they came forward, and investigations began.

Contrast that with the Plame leak. It was definitely not public employees revealing potentially illegal activity from their employer. It was the Executive Branch of the United States government trying to shield itself from a political opponent. Period. Now, if you're okay with leaking classified information for that purpose, that's fine. That's your prerogative. However, it is unreasonable and untenable to argue that the NSA leakers should be prosecuted because they did something terrible and that the Plame leakers did absolutely nothing wrong. I'm sorry; it just doesn't work.

It is my experience that people only argue untenable positions when they are blinded by something. In my opinion, it is partisanship and blind support of Bush that are the culprits in this case.

Please understand that I have incredible respect for Garry and the clarity of his arguments and points of view. Even though we disagree a lot, I respect his commitment to having a spirited and honest debate. I do, however, feel that his argument doesn't hold up in this case.


PS- I apologize for the length of this. I wanted to be thorough.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bush is funnier than Colbert...go figure!

I have to post this here because I think that Garry might agree with me for once.

At the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, Bush did a hilarious sketch with a look-alike in which he light-heartedly criticized himself. He got a lot of laughs, and even got several from a cynical liberal--me.

After the President's sketch, the host of the evening, Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central did a monologue, a very biting monologue. I thought his jokes were fairly tasteless and that he didn't read his audience well at all. Once the President quit laughing, Colbert was out of line. It's not so much that he criticized the President--I believe that a little criticism is good. The problem is that he was supposed to be funny while taking good-natured shots at the President. He wasn't. He forgot the axom of comedians who speak at things like this--singe, don't burn. Colbert burned, and he stunk terribly.

Crooks and Liars has the video.


A testament to the human spirit

I went and saw United 93 over the weekend as planned. It was the most harrowing movie-going experience I've ever had; I could hardly bear to watch the final 20 minutes. Several people cried, but what I felt was exhaustion at the movie's end. The film makes you relive that sunny morning in September five years ago, and relive it in the manner that most of us experienced it: watching an airliner hurtle into the south tower of the World Trade Center next to the already-burning north tower, and explode into an orange ball of flame over a CNN "Breaking News" graphic.

The shock, disbelief, and outrage I felt that day came flooding back as I watched United 93. It transported me from a comfortable movie theater to the office conference room where myself and others watched the events of 9/11 unfold on a large projection screen television. The hand-over-mouth horror expressed by the actors in the movie was the same as that expressed by my co-workers that awful morning. Even the funereal silence of the audience exiting the theater reminded me of the stunned silence which enveloped the conference room much of that day.

But this movie is mainly about the people on UA Flight 93 - normal, regular people like you or I, who found themselves in an extraordinary situation. A reviewer at Amazon summed up the movie brilliantly:

It was Thermopylae. It was the Alamo. It was like nothing that has happened before in human history.

Much of the power of United 93 is the knowledge that while people cannot realistically imagine themselves with the Spartans at Thermopylae or the Texans at the Alamo, just about everyone has flown in an air liner. Everyone seeing this film can imagine themselves among those brave but doomed passengers, fighting with the courage of desperation for the right to get home alive.

Though one knows what must happen in the film, one to the very last finds oneself praying for a different outcome, one in which the passengers seized back the plane and somehow flew it to safety at some nearby air field. But the film is real life, not Hollywood.

Every human being should see this film. It is a testament to the human spirit, of an indomitable desire, even in the face of death, to not go quietly into that good night.

Where I think the problem lies...

Garry responded to my last post with three posts of his own about national security and how, in his opinion, the "libs" don't get it. I've thought a lot about what he's said, and I'm going to try to get to the heart of the problem.

First, I have to do a quick fact check:

In response to my criticism of the NSA Domestic Spying program, Garry writes that

Jeff's caveat is another illustration of why Dems can't be trusted with national security - the ability to intercept real-time communications between persons in the U.S. and terror suspects abroad (without waiting hours or even days for a court authorization) is absolutely vital to thwart future attacks.

The problem with this statement is that it spins the truth. The truth is that liberals, including myself, want the President to stick with the law as outlined in FISA. FISA states that the President can authorize a wire-tap immediately (yes, Garry, that means "without waiting hours or even days for a court authorization") as long as within 72-hours he goes before the court to obtain a warrant. That seems to me like a pretty good deal, which, incidentally, was added to FISA via the Patriot Act. The president gets the tap immediately, national security is protected by "intercepting "real-time communications between persons in the U.S. and terror suspects abroad," and the court provides a check to ensure that the wire-tap power is not being abused. Everyone wins. I don't know what problem Garry has with that, but he twisted my "caveat" into something that it wasn't.

Also, Garry says:

a few weeks ago Senate Dems scuttled immigration reform legislation.

Read the article that Garry links to in this statement, and you will see clearly that both sides were "scuttling" the legislation, but the real problem was the hard-line right wanting to make illegal immigration a felony, which, as the article points out, is not what the public wants. To say either side "scuttled" the legislation is disingenuous. Both sides are at fault.

Furthermore, to justify my claim of Bush getting an "F" for his treatment of vets, read the Senate's "Brief Summary" of Bush's '06 budget. Veterans benefits are getting cut and will see major cuts in the future. Hmmm....

Now, to my real point. I think that the problem with discussing national security is that it's too partisan. For instance, Garry quickly dismissed several key points of the Democratic strategy as "laudable," but not really that big of a deal. I, and many Democrats, believe that things like decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, eliminating trade deficits (especially to semi-hostile nations like Saudi Arabia and China), and promoting a strong middle class at home are important because they strengthen us as a nation. Economic strength is vital to winning the war on terror, and the administration is ignoring it, plunging us farther and farther into debt as a nation. I honestly can't see how that makes us safer. In fact, it makes us more vulnerable. To say otherwise shows the same naivete that Garry alluded to several times.

The truth is that both parties have good ideas, but one side is being ignored. Until we recognize that as a nation and learn to compromise, we will continue to fight amongst ourselves instead of uniting to fight our enemies. National security is too important to draw along party lines.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I think I'm right.

Saint Jeff the Verbose