Monday, February 28, 2005

Good news from the Middle East

Street protests do work now and then. If you need proof, look to Lebanon, where Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned today after tens of thousands of furious demonstrators called for his pro-
Syrian administration's immediate ouster.

The Lebanese outrage has been building for two weeks, since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. No one has linked Syria directly to the killing, but the Lebanese opposition has blamed the Syrians, whose troops have occupied the country for more than a decade, since day one. The Lebanese likely will still have a pro-Syrian government at least until the next regular election in May, but the momentum certainly seems to be on the side of citizens who want the Syrians out. It's hard to see that as anything other than a good thing at this point.

Notably, the United States has worked together in recent weeks with France -- yes, that France -- to pressure Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. For the sake of all parties involved, I hope that's a harbinger of more U.S.-European cooperation to come.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bring the pain, Hollywood

Since the networks boycotted the Razzies yet again this year, I'm stuck with watching the Oscars instead. I haven't seen any of the movies nominated for Best Picture, but I'll tune in tonight anyway, mainly to see if host Chris Rock can curse enough to send Michael Powell into a coma just before he can empty the chairman's desk at the Federal Communications Commission.

Consider this your Academy Awards open thread, should you desire such a thing.

Whew, that was a close one

It sure is a good thing that President Bush has seen into Russian President Vladimir Putin's soul. And it's doubly good that they agreed Thursday that Iran shouldn't have a nuclear weapon under any circumstances. Otherwise, something really distressing might have happened, like Russia announcing three days later that it will supply nuclear fuel to Iran.

At least now I can feel a little safer when I go to sleep tonight.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Happy Black History Month, everyone

The University of Alabama's Student Government Association, like many college SGAs, has little more than advisory power when it comes to getting things done. The disadvantage of that distinction is that it can't do much of anything on its own, but the advantage is that it can beg UA administrators to do pretty much anything without having to worry about scrounging up the money to do it.

And that, of course, is why SGA senators at the Capstone had no real reason Thursday to reject a measure calling on the university to hang banners to recognize cultural heritage months throughout the school year. The majority's excuse that the resolution had no funding provision looks good on the surface, but it collapses when you consider that, like other schools' SGAs, most of the group's "initiatives" consist of little more than making puppy-dog eyes at administrators and asking "Pleeeease?" really hard.

To recap, what we have before us is a group of SGA senators, most of whom are members of all-white fraternities and sororities, telling minorities to go fly a kite at Alabama's flagship institution of higher education, where a demagoguing governor created an international incident when two black students tried to enroll for classes a little more than 40 years ago.

And you wonder how stereotypes get started.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Simply atrocious

President Bush this week made public calls for Syria to pull out of Lebanon or risk severe consequences. But New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reports that Syrians, who are on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, apparently aren't so bad if our government thinks someone needs to be roughed up for a while:

"Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.

"He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.

"Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.

"He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured."

You can read Herbert's whole column here. Do we really want our government acting like this?

Quick, say they have WMDs!

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, has declared war. Again.

House members voted 30-18 Thursday to end a filibuster by Jefferson County legislators angry that Alabama hasn't allocated any money for a domed stadium in Birmingham. The vote came after some of the county delegation's members abandoned the filibuster of an $80 million allocation to the state docks in Mobile.

Furious, Rogers vowed that he'd remember the people who voted to allow the Legislature to do some actual business: "As far as I'm concerned, war has been declared on some people." That, at least, is an improvement over a week ago, when Rogers called for all-out jihad: "This is holy war for us. We are not going to quit."

Yes, football has achieved quasi-religious status in Alabama, but let's hold off on saddling up the crusaders for now, OK?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Reader discretion advised

From an Illinois Appellate Court decision Wednesday: "She asserts that when plaintiff 'delivered' his sperm, it was a gift -- an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee. There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request."

I'll let that one speak for itself. Hat tip to Sam Heldman at Ignatz.

How'd I miss this story?

My discussion with loyal reader Susan of Local Tint in an earlier comments thread prompted me to check on the status of the court challenge to the Alabama sex-toy ban. As it turns out, it's no more.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment Tuesday to hear an appeal of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Williams v. Alabama to uphold the law. That means it's still illegal to sell vibrators in Alabama, though you're free to use them or buy them out of state.

I thought there was about a 50-50 chance that the justices would opt to hear the case, but I guess they decided that discretion is the better part of valor in a year when so much of the country is worked up about gay marriage. Still, it would have been rather interesting to see the justices' response to the 11th Circuit's reasoning, which adhered to the "slippery slope" theory that if you can't ban sex toys, then you must not be able to ban prostitution or incest either. And that's right, as long as the words "public health and safety" mean nothing to you.

Once the current furor over all things sexual dies down a little, and assuming no drastic ideological shift over the next few years, I expect the Supreme Court will reverse the 11th Circuit's decision. As Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett's dissent noted, "The majority's decision rests on the erroneous foundation that there is no substantive due process right to adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home and erroneously assumes that the promotion of public morality provides a rational basis to criminally burden such private intimate activity. These premises directly conflict with the Supreme Court's holding in Lawrence v. Texas."

In plain English: Ignore the Supreme Court at your peril.

Curiouser and curiouser

Remember Talon News, the vehicle by which a guy who worked under a pseudonym, boasted journalism credentials from a two-day seminar, and had profiles on male escort service sites gained daily access to White House press conferences and lobbed softball questions at President Bush?

Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, because it ain't there anymore.

Oh, so gay marriage is what's evil

I'm glad Pope John Paul II clarified that for us in his new book. Otherwise, I'd have gone on naively connecting the word "evil" to things like hundreds of pedophile priests molesting thousands of children and largely facing few or no repercussions. Silly me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I love open government

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday put a resounding stamp of approval on a bill that would require nonprofit groups to disclose their donors if they spend more than $1,000 to affect an election. The bill will move on to the House, where a large majority of members have already voted for similar legislation.

The president of the state Christian Coalition, John Giles, is appropriately shocked and awed, especially since his organization has a habit of printing reams of "issue advocacy" voter guides, better known as experiments in how close you can come to endorsing a candidate without actually doing it. The Christian Coalition of Alabama, as you may remember, led the campaign against an amendment to remove segregation-era language from the state constitution, so it's likely that a few legislators see this bill as their chance for revenge.

Giles' rhetoric about "a chilling of free speech" rings hollow. Legislators don't want to forbid the Christian Coalition from engaging in issue advocacy; they just want the group to tell who's paying the bills if they do. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring the public knows who's pouring money into efforts to influence an election, and this plan needs to aim to do that without venturing into unconstitutional territory.

The coalition could try to cobble together an argument based on NAACP v. Alabama that the forced disclosures would violate the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting its members to "economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility." The reality, though, is that being a Christian in Alabama rarely, if ever, subjects a person to any of those things. Also, the bill would only require the disclosure of a group's donors, not its entire membership, so any effect on free association would likely be minimal.

Too much of Alabama politics has been conducted in the shadows for too long. Regardless of their motivation, legislators may be about to turn on a little more light with this bill.

Be fruitful and multiply

Do the Funny Fruit, Respin 7, and Fruitholder machines comply with Alabama's Chuck E. Cheese law?

Aside from the possibility that the name "Fruitholder" is as amusing to you as it is to me, you probably don't care. But the district attorney for the Bessemer Cutoff, a special division of the Jefferson County Circuit Court, does care. A lot. So much so that he's called on an out-of-state gaming expert to examine the three arcade machines in an effort to convince a court to declare them illegal gambling devices.

It'd be nice if we didn't waste public resources on trying to ban video games. Then again, if we didn't, I wouldn't get to read newspaper stories about things called Fruitholder.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

At least the ambiguity is clear

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table."

Those words came from President Bush today during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium. Draw your own conclusions.

Public speaking 101

U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, came home Monday and summed up in two sentences the reasons that President Bush's proposal to move Social Security toward privatization likely will fail if it comes to a congressional vote in the next year or two.

"Democrats don't like it ... because we don't like gambling with a program that helps people," Davis said. "Republicans don't like it because they're, by and large, fiscal conservatives (who) don't think borrowing $3 trillion is a neat thing to do."

Davis also wowed a crowd of 300 with lines like this one: "Social Security says that we owe things to people regardless of who and what they are; we owe things to people who can't do anything for us because we're big enough and noble enough to believe in that."

Something tells me the U.S. House won't be the last stop in this guy's political career.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Who needs clean elections anyway?

Ever wonder how so many Alabama lawmakers could be so brazen in believing that they won't be held accountable for even the most atrocious conduct? It's simple: They learn in college.

The University of Alabama's Student Elections Board is doing the state's future no favors whatsoever with its shrug-the-shoulders attitude toward rules violations in the school's upcoming Student Government Association election. The board's chairwoman, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, said that not only will the board not release the names of candidates who violate the rules, it won't even tell the public that a rule has been violated.

The chairwoman also asserted that board members "are not going to go out there looking for things" and will only pursue complaints lodged within two business days of the violation. A "leave us alone" attitude isn't what's needed from people in charge of SGA elections at a university whose recent voting history has been marred by fraud and threats of violence and intimidation.

The election watchdogs at the state's flagship university should not roll over in the face of dirty tricks. If politicians get away with rule-breaking in college, they'll do their best to get away with it when they run for offices that actually mean something.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Same-sex Springfield

The online gamblers were right: Marge's sister Patty was the character who revealed herself as gay on tonight's episode of The Simpsons, which boldly tackled the gay-marriage debate with a predictable mixture of poignance and hilarity.

It'll be interesting to see how fundamentalist Christians, some of whom have heaped praise on The Simpsons for being one of the few television programs to show the faithful in a positive light, react to an episode that was highly sympathetic to gay people and gay-marriage proponents. Maybe we'll come full circle back to the time when shrill critics warned that Bart would bring on the apocalypse by skateboarding and saying "eat my shorts."

Regardless, I'm impressed that the show is old enough to have a driver's license and yet has managed to remain both entertaining and relevant throughout its run. The Simpsons just continues to cement its place as the best cartoon program in television history.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Meter reading #7

Another Saturday, another time to wallow in self-absorption. Here's how people have gotten here since Sunday:

A Google search for "Carter Ham blog."
Yes, this is a blog, but I've never written about Jimmy Carter eating ham. (Actually, there's a U.S. brigadier general named "Carter Ham," but it was funnier the other way. Right? OK, fine, don't play along.)

Google searches for "separate is inherently unequal" and "inherently unequal."
Apparently I should start using the word "inherently" more often. And doing so unequally.

A Yahoo search for "Redding Pitt Birmingham Alabama."
Redding 1, Twinkle 0.

A MyWay search for "militaryescort.com."
No, that's definitely not my way.

An Overture search for "militaryescortm4m."
I'm not comfortable with where this conversation is going...

A Google search for "'gay is the new black' Alabama."
Ah, thank you for changing the subject.

A Google search for "threaten a politician."
For the record, officer, I don't advocate it.

A Google search for "Red State Diaries."
Sure, not very impressive, you say. And you'd be right, if it didn't come from the Canadian version of Google.

Visitors from California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
Alas, no Mainers this week. I'm working on it.

Visitors from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Estonia, France, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, and United Kingdom.
I welcome my growing legion of Estonian readers.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Pluto is your friend

Unless, of course, you're the director of the Hayden Planetarium and you're trying to demote Charon's loyal companion from planetary status. Neil deGrasse Tyson tried it five years ago, and he "still [has] folders of hate mail from third-graders." The moral of this modern-day Aesop's fable: Don't mess with third-graders.

At any rate, you'll be glad to know that amateur astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto 75 years ago today, and we may learn a lot more about it in the next couple of decades. Scientists with NASA's New Horizons mission hope to launch mankind's first probe to the ninth planet next year, a prospect that has my inner astronomy nerd giddy in anticipation.

Finally, to answer the burning question that's been gnawing away at all of us for years: It appears Mickey Mouse's dog was named after the planet, not vice versa.

Bigotry is expensive

Since neither Democrats nor Republicans can agree on the best time to trample all over Alabama's gay residents, Gov. Bob Riley is thinking about wasting $3 million to hold a special election on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

No, I'm not making that up. Yes, Riley does have a vested interest in not allowing the amendment on the ballot during the June 2006 primaries, when he's likely to face a challenge from former Chief Justice Roy Moore, whose socially conservative supporters would flock to the polls for a chance to cast an anti-gay vote. And no, state Republican Party chairwoman Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh does not see a problem with setting $3 million of public money on fire to hold a special gay-bashing referendum.

The politicians are becoming parodies of themselves.

Surely it was just a coincidence

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge met Republican pollsters twice in May before starting a series of road trips around the country where almost half of the stops were in battleground states, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Sounds a little fishy, sure, but I remain unconvinced. Yes, the AP had to wage a year-long battle to pry the appointment calendars out of his reluctant aides' hands with a Freedom of Information Act request, but that proves nothing. After all, as Ridge himself told us during the campaign, "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security." Besides, a Ridge deputy who attended the May 17 meeting between Ridge and a GOP pollster assured us that they "did not discuss homeland security in a presidential campaign context."

Well, that puts my mind at ease, especially since unnamed U.S. officials dominated the headlines about a week after that meeting with an assertion that major summer terrorist attacks were possible. I'd have hated to think that claim might have had anything to do with other considerations, like President Bush's approval rating falling to 46 percent that month, or the continuing embarrassment of the unfolding Abu Ghraib scandal, or the public revelation that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, warned Bush that he could be prosecuted for war crimes if the Geneva Convention applied to novel interrogation methods used on al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

Fortunately, I don't have to think any of that, because a homeland security official said I shouldn't. I feel much better now.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Completely pucked

The National Hockey League decided to commit suicide Wednesday by canceling the entire 2004-05 season, most of which had already been lost due to a lockout. It marks the first time in history that a North American professional sports league -- and really, isn't that the only continent whose sports we care about? -- has wiped out an entire season because owners and players couldn't get along.

Hockey, as many observers have pointed out, wasn't exactly rolling in the dough or climbing the fan popularity charts before the lockout. (Indeed, as an Associated Press writer noted, some owners are actually doing better financially by not putting teams on ice.) Still, owners and players both deserve the blame for refusing to work out their salary-cap differences and give fans some hockey this year, no matter how short the season.

The losers in this situation, not surprisingly, are hockey fans, whose ranks were already dwindling and whose numbers are sure to fall even lower. It's another sad example of how the little guy all too often pays the price when greed runs wild.

But on the plus side, at least SportsCenter now has even more time for football and basketball highlights for those of us who couldn't care less about what grown men do on skates.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Why everyone hates the media

It appears to be a combination of rabid partisanship, people's fundamental misunderstanding of the value of objectivity and watchdog journalism, and a real sense that reporters don't really relate to everyday Americans. Oh, and mindless television talking heads, but you already knew that.

Whatever the answer is, it's likely in this very long and very good New Yorker piece that reveals a growing discontent with the media among both conservatives and liberals. Below are a few illustrative highlights to induce you to read more of the story.

Bill Keller, executive editor, The New York Times: "In a more concerted way than liberal critics, conservative critics have castigated major newspapers, especially ours, and network news broadcasts. ... I'm far from being a conspiracy theorist, but I think this has been deliberate and I think it has some effect, especially on people who don't actually read The New York Times."

Ann Marie Lipinski, editor-in-chief, Chicago Tribune: "[Everything] is seen through a political lens, rather than as, 'Here's somebody with a different experience from me.'"

Keller: "Conservatives feel estranged because they feel excluded. They do not always see themselves portrayed in the mainstream press as three-dimensional humans, and they don't see their ideas taken seriously or treated respectfully."

James Warren, deputy managing editor for features, Chicago Tribune: "[People] see what we do as no different from 'Could this pastrami sandwich kill you? Could this screen door harm your child? Tune in at 10!' They don’t see any difference between an investigative reporter and a blow-dried idiot."

This story is spot-on and worth your time. Read it.

It all makes sense now

An attorney has sued Wal-Mart, Gamestop, and two video game companies for more than $600 million, alleging that a teenager killed three people at a Fayette police station after playing too much Grand Theft Auto. The lawsuit alleges that the teen spent so much time playing video games that his ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality disappeared.

So that's why the World Cup is on my closet shelf.

And now a little good news from Montgomery

The Alabama Senate is fully willing to allow county commissions to regulate junkyards and weeds. Oh, and it would also be great if government bodies would obey the law by holding open meetings and telling the public about them beforehand.

Baby steps, however small, are still progress. Thanks, senators.

'Gay is the new black'

Surprisingly, I've never typed that phrase on this blog before, though I've used it in conversation several times. At any rate, The Birmingham News draws the parallel explicitly today in a story on the slew of anti-gay bills clogging up the Alabama Legislature.

You already know about the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage -- it's already illegal, but you just never know what those liberal activist French-type judges might do -- but Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, has decided that gay people shouldn't be able to adopt children either. Because, you know, they'll just make 'em all gay, and besides, it's icky when two dudes kiss. Also in the pipeline is the wild-eyed plan by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, to eliminate all written evidence that gays ever existed.

Why all the fuss over gay people this year? Well, first off, everyone knows it's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, so there. Also, as the president of the state Christian Coalition -- truly a beacon for compassionate, non-discriminatory policy-making -- notes, 2006 is an election year, and a gay-marriage ban polls well. "People will, and can, ride the wave or get in on the parade," he said.

Well, unless it's one of them there rainbow-flag-type parades.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Show us your tips

Mardi Gras may be over, but it's laissez les bons temps rouler time in the world of media controversies.

First up is Jim Guckert redux. You may remember Guckert as the conservative website reporter who slipped into White House press conferences using his pseudonym, Jeff Gannon. Well, it turns out that in addition to what we already knew about him -- he has almost no journalism background, he was connected to very sketchy websites, and he somehow got his hands on sensitive national-security information -- there is now evidence suggesting he "offered his services as a male prostitute."

Confronted with the evidence that blogger John Aravosis amassed on the liberal site AmericaBlog, Guckert told Editor & Publisher that he will no longer talk to the media. Of course, he also refused to rule out an eventual return to "journalism" (note the quotation marks), which would make for kind of an awkward situation if he tried to stick to that "no talking to the media" stipulation. At any rate, there's still no word from the White House on how a guy with so few qualifications and such a dubious past managed to get so close to the president, but Salon's Eric Boehlert is on the case.

Moving on to a far more genteel scandal, we find that the Bush administration isn't alone in purchasing propaganda. Campaign staffers of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., paid $1,500 last summer to a consulting firm owned by columnist Eric Wesson, who -- surprise! -- praised Cleaver without mentioning the cash.

Wesson, who has since received yet another consulting contract from Cleaver and is still covering him for the Kansas City-based newspaper The Call, defended his failure to reveal his financial ties: "We're an advocacy newspaper. Should I have disclosed it in my articles? I don't know. Would it have made any difference?"

Yes, Mr. Wesson, it would have. It would have let your readers know that you're part of this country's rapidly growing number of analysts and pundits and talking heads who haven't the slightest idea about what real, objective reporting is.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Captain Obvious strikes again

Good ol' Cap pays us a visit today in The Birmingham News, where we learn that if the vote on the constitutional gay-marriage ban comes during the 2006 primaries, that could aid the gubernatorial chances of -- gasp! -- demagogue extraordinaire Roy Moore.

Yes, I know you're stunned that social conservatives with a reflexive dislike of all things homosexual could ever find common ground with Moore, but that appears to be the case. It's been obvious from the beginning that this latest round of legislative gay-bashing has far less to do with principle than political timing.

The electoral theories on each side seem simple. If Democrats get their way and the vote comes during the primaries, social conservatives turn out in force to nominate a slate of very conservative GOP candidates who get rejected in November. If Republicans get their way and push the vote back to the general election, they nominate more moderate candidates who sweep to victory in the fall when social conservatives flock to the polls.

Since Democrats still control the Legislature, the former option is the likelier setup, and the shockwaves could reach all the way to the top. Lionel Gustafson, a GOP activist from Gulf Shores, echoes a prediction I made a couple of months ago: If Moore is the Republicans' nominee for Alabama's top job, then Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley will get a promotion.

I'm still skeptical that Moore can oust Gov. Bob Riley in the Republican primary. But I'm far more open to the idea now that the gay-marriage amendment will be on the ballot with them.

Help me help you

I have a bountiful crop of 50 unused Gmail invitations just waiting to be harvested. E-mail me and you can have as many as you want.

The name game

The Alabama Republican Party just selected Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh as its new chairwoman, making her the first female leader of a major state political party. Meanwhile, over at the Alabama Democratic Party headquarters, Redding Pitt has survived a call for his ouster and will remain as chairman.

That's all well and good, but your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a state where the major political parties are led by two people with quirkier-sounding names. Bonus points if you don't have to leave the South to do it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Meter reading #6

When it's late Sunday night and you can't think of anything else to write about, why not churn out the next installment of the blogosphere's fastest-growing self-referential series? Here's how people have gotten here since last Friday:

A Technorati search for "distance learning."
My services are available for a reasonable fee. Inquire inside.

A Google search for "Lucy Baxley."
And campaign season has officially begun.

A Technorati search for "Joe Lieberman."
Then again, maybe it never ended...

Four searches for "The Blount Countian."
Three from Google and one from WebSearch. You get the point by now: A small-town weekly's loss is my gain. Lather, rinse, repeat.

A Feedster RSS search for "American thinker."
I don't know what that sentence even means, but thanks anyway.

Visitors from Arizona, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Oh, and Washington, D.C., too. Last time it was Hawaii. This time, West Virginia. My next U.S. milestone? You guessed it: Maine.

Visitors from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Singapore, and Venezuela.
I'd set a new international milestone, but I doubt I'll ever top Estonia. Unless I can complete the Baltic States trifecta...

A Google search for "who preached at post inaugural breakfast."
Contrary to rumors on the Internet(s), it wasn't me.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

From the rooftops, shout it out

Howard Dean is ready to go as the new Democratic National Committee chairman. The former Vermont governor, the only contender after six other hopefuls dropped out in the last few weeks, won the job today on a voice vote.

Some moderate Democrats are undoubtedly troubled that their party leader is a guy who said he comes from "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," and Republicans have been quick to paint Dean as an out-of-touch New England liberal who'd rather scream incoherently than reach out to Midwestern and Southern voters. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican pundit with nothing but the Democrats' best interests in mind, said of Dean last month that "if [Democrats] have a death wish, he'd be the perfect guy to go with."

What's been lost in all of the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over how Republicans and moderates will react to Dean's DNC chairmanship is this: It doesn't really matter. Republicans will criticize anyone who runs the Democratic Party as too liberal; it's their political strategy. Furthermore, how many moderates deeply care who's in charge of a party's apparatus? How many voters went for President Bush because Ed Gillespie headed the Republican National Committee? How many votes did U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., get because Terry McAuliffe ran the DNC?

Dean is an intelligent guy who probably will excite the Democrats' base and restore some much-needed passion to a party that has seemed comatose since the twilight of the Clinton administration. Say what you will about Dean's reputation as a wild-eyed liberal -- his record as Vermont governor indicates that it's undeserved -- but he isn't afraid to say what he believes.

Dean likely will articulate the kind of clear-cut positions that Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore, masters of nuance, simply could not during the last two presidential campaigns. In this era of politics driven by short attention spans and television sound bites, the ability to get right to the point and stay there is vital.

The Democratic Party under Dean, if it hopes to succeed, must be more than the loyal opposition; it must offer legitimate, long-term alternatives to Republican policies. Dean showed signs today that he gets the message: "We cannot win if all we are is against the current president and his administration."

Democrats have seemed rudderless for the last four years. Dean may be just the guy to give them direction again.

Friday, February 11, 2005

And we have a winner...

Forget Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus. We have an undisputed winner in the sweepstakes for Best White House Media Propagandist, and his name is Jeff Gannon. Except, of course, when it isn't.

An explanation is in order, so indulge me. Gannon, who worked for the avowedly right-wing website Talon News before he resigned under pressure this week, rose to notoriety a couple of weeks ago after he lobbed a loaded softball question at President Bush during a White House press conference.

Gannon alleged that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., "seem to have divorced themselves from reality." As "proof," he referred to a joke that radio host Rush Limbaugh made about Reid and treated it as a legitimate piece of news. Oh, and did I mention that Gannon also wrote stories that copied whole paragraphs of GOP fact sheets verbatim?

What we have before us is poor, biased journalism at its finest. But don't worry, it gets better: "Gannon" isn't actually Gannon. He's Jim Guckert, a guy whose journalism training consists of two days at a right-wing reporting seminar.

You should also know a couple of other things about Guckert. First, he wrote numerous gay-bashing stories that were posted on Talon News and GOPUSA.com, both owned by the same Republican oil magnate from Texas. (Both sites have deleted Guckert's stories since Guckert's resignation.) Second, he registered the following domain names a few years ago for an unnamed client: hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescort.com, and militaryescortm4m.com.

Despite his questionable credentials, he obtained documents naming Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Plame's outing came after her husband, former Gabon Ambassador Joseph Wilson, contradicted the Bush administration's pre-war claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger. Patrick Fitzgerald, a special investigator heading a criminal probe into the matter, is threatening to send a couple of reporters to jail for not revealing their sources. Oddly, though, it appears that neither Guckert nor Robert Novak, the columnist who revealed Plame's identity in the first place, has been subjected to that kind of scrutiny.

So how does a newbie reporter working under a pseudonym score admission to White House press conferences and get hold of documents with big-time national-security implications? It's a good question, one that neither White House press secretary Scott McClellan nor anyone else in the Bush administration has answered so far. U.S. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., are calling on Fitzgerald to investigate.

Regardless of how all of this turns out, I've learned a very valuable lesson in the last few weeks: Fake news is where it's at these days.

Death of a playwright

"I'll tell you what's walking Salem -- vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant's vengeance! I'll not give my wife to vengeance!"
-- John Proctor, The Crucible, Act II, Scene iv
Rest in peace, Arthur Miller. You were one of the best.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

This doesn't look good

The Bush administration received 52 intelligence reports warning about Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda between April and September 2001. Five briefings discussed terrorists' hijacking ability, and two talked about their plans for suicide assaults. Federal Aviation Administration officials "had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon" before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Those are just a few of the revelations in the final declassified version of a previously undisclosed 9/11 commission report. The newly disclosed report also hammers the FAA for not expanding its terrorist watch list or hiring more air marshals. A cursory reading of The New York Times' story on the report leaves an impression that some high-level government officials made very few efforts to connect the dots.

The Bush administration received the report five months ago but withheld it until two weeks ago, a decision I'm sure had nothing whatsoever to do with November's presidential election. After all, the al-Qaeda and bin Laden warnings constituted only half of all intelligence reports that Bush received in the five months before 9/11. Why would the American public worry about that when deciding whether to re-elect him?

Time heals all wounds -- and injustices

The Alabama Legislature's homophobia train rolled on down the tracks Tuesday as lawmakers overwhelmingly passed versions of a bill calling for a needless, redundant constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It was the first statewide bill to get a vote this year, which means our legislators gave first priority to senseless symbolism instead of, you know, governing. How fitting.

A recent Auburn University poll showed that 54 percent of Alabamians support a gay-marriage ban, which is yet another example of why our Founding Fathers were so wise to safeguard minority rights against the whims of an overeager majority. The state's political atmosphere is so polluted with anti-gay sentiment right now that even the president of the University of Alabama's gay student group won't go out on a very short limb and say that the state's gay residents are being persecuted.

But not everyone is as reticent. Howard Bayless of the gay-rights group Equality Alabama drew a harsh-but-true analogy between the government-endorsed discrimination against blacks in the 1960s and the government-endorsed discrimination against gays today: "The politicians are now using the 'Q' word like the politicians of the past used the 'N' word."

As with the days of Jim Crow, history will weigh in with a verdict on the current anti-gay frenzy. And as with the demagogues who railed against blacks 40 years ago, the demagogues who rail against gay people today will find themselves on the wrong side.

Brinksmanship is back

I guess North Korean leaders were tired of all of Iran receiving all of the U.S. pre-war attention, because they got uppity today.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry announced the country will withdraw from disarmament talks and continue to expand its nuclear program. This development is troubling for several reasons, most notably because the CIA has admitted that North Korea has ballistic missiles that can reach the West Coast and because it's the country's first public admission that it has nukes.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned today that the North Koreans risk "deepening their isolation" if they don't return to six-party disarmament talks with the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. What she didn't do, unlike with Iran, was issue a thinly veiled threat of a U.S. invasion. Instead, Rice asserted, "The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea."

Three things come to mind when I hear that. First, I really hate the passive voice. Second, I can't help but wonder whether the Bush administration really knows what to do with a nuclear-armed North Korea at this point. Third, I'm not what really can be done with North Korea right now.

I suspect Kim Jong-Il and crew stepped up the rhetoric today in hopes that the West will offer more economic assistance and tone down criticism of North Korea's corrupt, repressive, deplorable dictatorship. I also suspect the West will have none of that.

North Koreans almost certainly aren't stupid enough to ensure their annihilation by launching a nuclear missile at the United States. Still, I'm glad I don't live by the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

'Deja vu all over again'

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today warned Iranian leaders that "the next steps are in the offing" if they don't stop their nuclear enrichment program. "And I think everybody understands what 'the next steps' mean," she said.

Rice quickly added that military intervention isn't an option "at this point in time." And since President Bush wasn't ordering an invasion of Iran at the very moment those words were coming out of her mouth, she was technically correct.

But yes, Ms. Rice, despite your assertions to the contrary, we do know what you mean. As former U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay said today, "It's deja vu all over again. You have the secretary of defense talking about the problems of a nuclear-
armed Iran. You have the vice president warning about a nuclear-armed Iran and terrorism; you have Condoleezza Rice saying, 'Force is not on the agenda -- yet.'"

Nope, never heard anything like that before.

How tortious is class-action reform?

Very tortious indeed, if you agree with Sam Heldman's take on the convoluted class-action legislation that Congress has introduced to address the kind of lawsuit that corporate defendants fear most. The bill's net effect, Heldman says, would be to shift class actions from state courts to federal courts, where they would clog dockets and prompt busy judges to dismiss as many of them as possible.

Heldman is a Washington-based lawyer who does some class-action work, so you should bear that in mind while reading his analysis. One thing he's undeniably right about, though, is that the bill could use some work in the grammar department. How can we expect our children to speak and write in proper English when congressmen can't even string together a coherent sentence?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I don't think they're buying it

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Paris today, urged European leaders "to turn away from the disagreements of our past" and "open a new chapter in our relationship and a new chapter in our alliance." Oddly, those words come from the same woman who a couple of years ago said the Bush administration should "punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia" for their decisions not to join the Iraq war coalition.

But hey, that little disagreement is all in the past, right? I'm sure the Europeans have no hard feelings.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Monday afternoon quarterbacking

I know you want it, so it's time for an open thread on last night's Super Bowl. Talk amongst yourselves; I'll give you some topics:

  • Are you surprised that the Patriots beat the Eagles? (If so, can I interest you in some prime beachside parcels in Arizona?)
  • Was it gutsy or egotistical for Terrell Owens to return so quickly from his injury to start at wide receiver for the Eagles? (I lean toward the former.)
  • What was the best new commercial and why? (My hands-down pick is the FedEx/Kinko's spot with the 10 elements of a successful Super Bowl ad. Any commercial that features a bear kneeing Burt Reynolds in the groin is an automatic winner in my book.)
  • Just how fortunate was it that Paul McCartney's wardrobe didn't malfunction? (Make up your own quip for this one. Frankly, I'm embarrassed that I even mentioned the idea.)

  • Sunday, February 06, 2005

    Automated racism?

    When you first heard about Alabama legislators' proposal to use cameras to issue automatic tickets to red-light runners, perhaps you were concerned about privacy violations. Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, thinks you should worry more about racism.

    Holmes said he is concerned that a disproportionate number of blacks receive seat-belt citations and that police ask motorists for their driver's licenses and insurance cards more often in black neighborhoods than in white ones. He made it clear to the Montgomery Advertiser that he wants the Legislative Black Caucus to join his fight against the bill: "We're not going to give law enforcement in the state of Alabama more tools to harass and intimidate black people. When they put it on the calendar, we're going to filibuster and we're going to lock down the Legislature."

    If anything, it would seem automated cameras are more colorblind than living, breathing police officers, so I suspect Holmes may just be airing a generalized grievance here. Still, if he decides to press the issue, it'll be interesting to see just how much sway the Legislative Black Caucus still holds on Goat Hill.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    'Fuzzy math' in Iraq turnout numbers

    Editor & Publisher Editor Greg Mitchell wrote about this topic Wednesday, but, like most of the American mainstream media, I'm running a few days behind on it.

    After a little bit of research and some basic fact-checking -- I call it "reporting" -- Mitchell discovered that the widely publicized turnout figures for Monday's Iraq election likely were inflated guesstimates. Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, speaking to Mitchell, referred to them as "fuzzy math."

    The numbers bandied about in the press were 8 million voters and a 57 percent turnout. But the turnout percentage apparently was based on a count of about 14 million registered voters, not the overall adult population, which even the most conservative estimates place around 18 million. If you stick to the 8 million figure, the actual turnout likely was under 45 percent.

    But Mitchell also offers good reason to question whether 8 million Iraqis actually voted. That number is based on a statement by an Independent Electoral Commission spokesman, who guessed the number of voters was "as many as 8 million," which, conveniently, corresponded to his pre-election turnout prediction.

    Early vote tabulations also appear to belie the idea that 8 million voters participated. The New York Times reported Thursday that with 60 percent of the vote counted in Mosul, the turnout there looks to be only about 10 percent. As a surprisingly candid Kurdish member of the Iraqi election commission said, "Only God Almighty knows the final turnout now."

    It'd be nice if more of the American media would make that clear instead of regurgitating the party line without question.

    Friday, February 04, 2005

    Meter reading #5

    In keeping with the emerging theme of list-centric posts, I offer another installment of my ongoing site vanity series. Here's how people have gotten here since Tuesday:

    Four visitors from The Short Bus.
    It's a witty blog best described as a thought-provoking laugh riot. Sadly, its proprietor, an Alabama expatriate, decided to close up shop Thursday. I mourn the end of The Short Bus' too-short life.

    Some visitors from the Political Blog Directory.
    I don't know how many. I didn't count. I don't want to count. You don't want to read about it. I won't mention it again, unless it suddenly sends thousands of stunned, confused readers my way all at once. Or if it gives me a government contract.

    A Google search for "Mac parody Holcomb."
    I didn't know he had a nickname. Seriously, what could anyone hope to find with this search?

    Two Google searches for "The Blount Countian."
    The newspaper folks in Oneonta still don't have a website. That's OK; I'll gladly take their traffic.

    Visitors from Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
    Hawaii!!!

    Visitors from Canada, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
    Turkey!!!

    A Google search for "separate is inherently unequal."
    A clarification of Tuesday's post: If you place quotation marks around that phrase, I'm the No. 1 Google hit for that term. If you don't, I'm only No. 2. Damn you, Decatur Daily...

    A Google search for "pixelate the morality police."
    That's the best idea I've heard all day.

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Surely you didn't think I'd forget

    "Hey," you say, "this national politics stuff is fine and dandy, but where's the love for Alabama? He hasn't written a single thing about the State of the State address or the new legislative session!"

    First of all, Alabama politics wonk who exists solely as a literary device, thank you for your patience. I meant to preview the legislative session earlier this week, but other things got in the way. Besides, our state's esteemed lawmakers usually don't actually do their jobs until the last few days of the session, if at all.

    Regardless, mythical wonk, your wait is over, because I'm about to make things right for you. Since the soundbite format worked so well for the State of the Union post, I'll use it again.

    No new taxes: Gov. Bob Riley pushed a $1.2 billion tax plan in 2003 to try to raise the additional revenue that Alabama will eventually need to provide services at more than the most minimal level. Voters shot it down. Now Riley has reversed course, introducing the widely praised SMART budgeting program (an acronym for "smart, measurable, accountable, responsive, and transparent") and heavily emphasizing accountable spending.

    As a Government Performance Project survey showed earlier this week, Montgomery's fiscal management has been abysmal for a long time, so I'm glad Riley is keeping a more watchful eye over spending than his predecessors. Alabama will eventually need more money for its services to compete on an equal footing with those in other states, but with anti-tax sentiment so high right now, Riley is right to focus on belt-tightening.

    Downright shameful: Homophobia has become contagious lately, and Alabama legislators are infected. A legislative committee Wednesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, even though state law already prohibits the practice. Instead of listening to gay constituents who begged them not to perpetuate hate, lawmakers have decided that discrimination is a great idea and now are kicking around the political football of when to hold the statewide vote on it.

    Even worse, the measure's sponsor is Rep. Yusuf Salaam, D-Selma, who is the only Muslim in the Legislature. You'd think he would have a little more sympathy for victims of senseless bigotry.

    Who needs book learnin'?: Paul Hubbert is doing his very best to ensure that Republicans take control of the Legislature. How else can you explain the fact that the head of the Alabama Education Association is vowing publicly to fight tooth-and-nail against an education proposal that fully funds the Alabama Reading Initiative, offers money for distance-learning technology for rural schools, and gives teachers a raise?

    Riley's plan to make up for the General Fund's shortfalls by moving the education-related costs of a few programs into the Education Trust Fund makes sense, and it likely would foreclose the need to raise taxes or slash the budgets of already cash-strapped programs. Hubbert, while well-meaning, isn't exactly renowned for his sensible approach to monetary shortfalls.

    Follow the money: Ever try to figure out who donated to a legislator's campaign? You often can't, and it's thanks to rapid-fire transfers among political action committees that make the funds almost impossible to trace to their source. A bill by Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, would be a good start down the road to transparency in the electoral process.

    Try, try again: There's no question that we have to pass an amendment to get discriminatory, segregation-era language out of the state Constitution. Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who never met a piece of granite he didn't like, led a demagogic and, unfortunately, successful campaign last year to lead voters to believe the measure was a backdoor way for judges to raise taxes. Now the proposed amendment is back, and black legislators are determined that it include a provision repealing language that says Alabamians have no right to public education.

    The language was added in 1956 as a response to Brown v. Board of Education, and it was the part of the proposal that Moore twisted for his own purposes, whatever they may be. Black lawmakers are right to insist that the segregation-era provision be repealed. A sensible compromise would be to tack on a disclaimer that the amendment shall not be construed to give anyone other than legislators the power to order a tax increase.

    Bring it home: County commissions are pushing for home-rule measures to allow local governments to exercise control over junkyards, trash, nuisances, and animals. You know, all of the things that county commissions can already manage in states without a constitution that pushes micromanagement over the brink of insanity. If there's any common sense left in Montgomery, this plan should soar through the Legislature.

    Of course, that's a big "if."

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    OK, peer pressure, you win

    Almost every political blogger in the United States is hopping off the Brooklyn Bridge, so I may as well join them. Here, in no particular order, are some preliminary observations about the State of the Union address and the Democratic response.

    Harry Reid stole my muse: I was all set for my headline on this post to make a witty reference to Bill Murray's comedic classic Groundhog Day -- you know, since it's Groundhog Day, and we've heard President Bush say a lot of the same things time and again. ("The beat goes on" would have been a little too obvious, so I was leaning toward "Drums keep poundin' a rhythm to the brain.") But then the Senate minority leader from Nevada had to steal my thunder with his own sly movie reference in the Democratic response. Thanks for nothing, Harry.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Bush said he has "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world" and rebuked the Iranian and Syrian governments for oppressing their people. The leaders of Iran and Syria have done reprehensible things, but if Bush's goal is to end all tyranny in the world, why did he praise the repressive regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

    'They took our jobs!': Props to Bush for standing up to internal party pressure and calling for a guest worker program for illegal immigrants. As I've said before, the American economy's dirty little secret is that barring a depression, it needs immigrants willing to do less-desirable jobs to keep things going. Anti-
    immigration sentiment has always played well among a lot of voters, so I commend Bush for doing the right thing here.

    Doublethink at work: In the same speech where he observed that "a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable" and said "we must never turn away from any citizen who feels isolated from the opportunities of America," Bush threw his support behind a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. If your mind can reconcile that contradiction, you're a more talented thinker than I.

    Private party: Bush introduced his Social Security privatization plan tonight, and its details are no big surprise. Most notable was when Democrats briefly shouted Bush down when he claimed Social Security will go bankrupt in 2042. That, of course, isn't quite true. As I said last month, Bush still needs to explain how the government will ensure that diverted payroll taxes actually go into safe retirement investments. I suspect it would involve another layer of bureaucracy.

    Some folks just aren't meant for TV: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is one of them. Yeah, we need to secure loose nuclear material and give more money to first responders, but it hurt my ears to hear her stumbling over those words in a speech clearly read straight off the teleprompter. Advice to the Dems: Let Reid give the whole rebuttal next year. He showed a grandfatherly quality tonight that could endear him to the public.

    The enduring image: People soon will forget what Bush said tonight, but the picture of the Iraqi woman hugging the mother of a Marine killed in battle will live on in popular lore. Even if you're not really into symbolism, it was still a powerful moment.

    Um, see, asbestos causes cancer: Bush, while pushing for caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits and scapegoating lawyers for all the world's ills, said the country's "economy is held back by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims." So, Mr. President, care to tell me whose asbestos-induced lung cancer was just a waste of the court's time?

    Long speeches can be entertaining: Sure, it was funny when the camera caught U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., nodding off at the very beginning of Bush's address. But words cannot describe how amusing -- and creepy -- it was to watch Bush plant a full-on kiss on U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., after the speech. I guess that's one way to reach out across the aisle.

    No, you're still from Auburn

    The Auburn Plainsman turns unintentional comedy into a front-page art form this week with its hypothesis that -- get this -- the university's 13-0 football season will give Auburn students a leg up on other employment seekers.

    As a lifelong, diehard Alabama Crimson Tide fan, I know I have to cut attendees of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute a little slack from time to time, but that rule only applies when the folks on the Plains do or say things with any connection whatsoever to reality. So here's the deal, Tigers: Yes, you will be hired if you're the best fit for the niche the company is looking to fill. No, you won't be hired because Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown are first-round NFL draft prospects. Sorry if I shattered any dreams there.

    Auburn fans, if you're reading, please do something to stop this kind of madness. It just doesn't reflect well.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    The State of the Union is drunk

    Or at least it will be if everyone plays the State of the Union address drinking game Wednesday night. Read it, have a good laugh, and note my disclaimer of all liability should you decide to take the joke literally.

    Meter reading #4

    You know the drill by now. Here's how people have gotten here since Wednesday:

    Eight visitors from the Political Blog Directory.
    Some of them even hung around for a little while this week. That goes on the progress report.

    A Google search for "Mac Holcomb."
    Gone from the headlines, but certainly not forgotten.

    A Technorati search for "Iraq election."
    This one confuses me a little. Sure, I've written about the vote, but cash flow problems have forced me to leave the site's Baghdad bureau unstaffed.

    Someone who wandered over from a college statistics class blog.
    University of origin unknown. I've noticed a growing trend of class blogs in the last couple of years. I've also found that you usually don't want to read them unless you must.

    A Google search for "separate is inherently unequal."
    I'm proud to be the No. 1 hit for this search term.

    A Google search for "onomatopoeia."
    Honk!

    Visitors from Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
    One day I'll tire of rattling off lists of states. Today is not that day.

    Visitors from Australia, Canada, France, India, Portugal, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
    [Insert witty comment about France here. Degree of difficulty: No snails. Bonus points for clever Lance Armstrong references.]