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:: Saturday, December 20, 2003 ::

The Return of the King

Well, I finally got to see it. In short? It was worth the wait. Not just the two years since Fellowship, but the fifty years since the books were published.

Words really can't do it justice. If you haven't seen it, go see it. If you've seen it, you'll probably -- like I plan too -- see it again. It was everything I hoped it could be. So many wonderful moments...far too many to list them all. Pippin singing as Faramir leads his doomed charge. Frodo and Sam at Cirith Ungor. Shelob. Definitely Shelob. Sam, charging alone into a fortress. And God...the Rohirrm. Theoden's speech before his men, the wildly blowing horns of Rohan. Aragorn and the Dead, and the last doomed stand before the Black Gate.

Congratulations, Peter Jackson. You took the a story that no one thought could ever by translated into film, and you did a better job than anyone could have hoped for. It's Star Wars for this generation....and even that might be faint praise.

And after King Kong, what next? Perhaps you and Spielberg could get together, and see if someone could finally do Stephen King some justice. I think the Dark Tower novels would translate well into a mini-series like Band of Brothers.

I'll be seeing it again, right after Christmas. And I can't wait for the extended edition. Thank you, Peter Jackson. For three years you've given me the best Christmas present a Tolkein fan could hope for. I can't wait to see what you do next.
:: Morat 5:53 PM :: ::

:: Friday, December 19, 2003 ::

Sept. 11 Panel Chief Clarifies Remarks

Wow, check out the backpedaling. Sounds like Kean got a nasty phone call.

Not that his "clarification" passes the laugh test. Experienced officials (and Kean is certainly one) don't go on TV and make remarks that accidentally point to the White House and White House officials.
:: Morat 7:58 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, December 18, 2003 ::

Poll shows Dean is No. 1 with Georgia Democrats

Well, huh. Raise your hand if you thought Dean would have an 11 point lead in Georgia this early in the campaign?:
Buoyed by a surge in publicity -- including former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement -- Dean moved into a solid lead in the survey of 277 likely Democratic Georgia voters, conducted Monday and Tuesday.
Not that Dean is likely to carry Georgia in the general, unless Bush is caught molesting ducks on videotape.

Male ducks. Mere bestiality wouldn't sway some people. But homosexual bestiality? I think that'd make a dent in the GOP base....
:: Morat 9:10 PM :: ::

The Bush Tax

Dean's got a new speech out on domestic policy. I really like the term "Bush tax".
Dean for America: Keeping the Promise of America:

But let’s look at the facts. The average wage earner did get a few hundred dollars back. But the refund didn’t come for free.

President Bush never told you about the “Bush Tax”. He never mentioned that over the next six years the typical American family will take on $52,000 more in its share of the national debt. That’s a part of the “Bush Tax”. But there’s a lot more.

Take a look at your property taxes. They probably went up. In New Hampshire, property taxes went up an average of $270 per family last year. That’s part of the “Bush Tax”. Or look at your state budget. Is it in crisis? In most states, it is. That’s part of the “Bush Tax”, too.

Getting fewer services and paying more for things like state college tuitions or special education – that’s the consequence of the “Bush Tax”.

The “Bush Tax” is huge – many times greater than most people’s refunds. And it’ll be here for a long time to come. Just add the “Bush Tax” to all the other things the President never told us.
Pretty interesting stuff.
:: Morat 1:38 PM :: ::

Governor to declare emergency, pay counties, cities

Well, it appears to have hit the fan:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, under mounting pressure from local governments, will declare a public safety emergency today and order the state controller to pay cities and counties money they started losing after his decision to reduce the fee for vehicle licenses, administration sources said Wednesday.

Schwarzenegger's move is an end-run around the Democrat-controlled Legislature, which has so far balked at the governor's demands that it appropriate money for local governments. Democrats said all the money in the budget is already spoken for and that it would be irresponsible to spend money without knowing where it would come from.
I don't think Arnold is going to come out of this unscathed. If I were a Legislator, of either party, I'd be a little unhappy that the Gubernator tore a big hole in the already frail budget, and then demanded we magically create the money to fill it. Or, of course, personally slash the services Mr. Gubernator swore he wouldn't cut.

After all, if the Legislature is forced to cut those services, it's hardly Arnold's fault...
:: Morat 1:24 PM :: ::

New ARG NH poll

Looks like Dean has maintained his lead. Latest results:
Dean: 45 (45)
Kerry: 20 (13)
Clark: 8 (11)
Lieberman: 6 (5)
Edwards: 2 (3)
Undecided: 15(15).

Both Dean's and Kerry's unfavorables have increased (Dean's from 7% to 19%, Kerry's from 18% to 23%). Dean's favorability remains steady, and Kerry's dropped 6 points. I remain happy to see Lieberman at 44% favorable, 40% unfavorable.

Looks like the negative ads are eroding those "undecided" on Dean -- although that could be a function of the recent Iraq news.

Nonetheless, they're not doing Kerry any good, and don't seem to be hurting Dean's lead. Clark's hope for a surprise second in NH seem to be fading. It'll be interesting to see if Clark starts hammering Kerry...or hopes that Dean will do it.

Getting second in NH would be a boon to Clark on mini-Tuesday. It wouldn't help him much against Dean (losing by 20+ points won't get you much of a bounce) but might be enough to grab a lot of people otherwise torn between him and Edwards.
:: Morat 11:49 AM :: ::

Anti-Dean

The more I watch the polls, the more I'm certain that the "anti-Dean" doesn't really exist. Sure, there are people who really don't like Dean. There are always people, even inside the party, that really loathe one candidate or another.

But this talk of an "anti-Dean" like there are vast forces of "Anyone But Dean" democrats out there is just....odd.

Every poll I've seen that lists "favorable/unfavorable" numbers has Dean scoring the best...by far. Clark occasionally beats him, but the rest of the field isn't even in the same ballpark.

So why the anti-Dean story? Two reasons. The simple reason is that people -- and the media -- want a contest. It's got to be Dean versus someone, and apparently "Those other 8 guys" isn't really as exciting. So people expect the race to narrow between Dean and someone else.

Looking a bit more deeply, I can see the roots of the anti-Dean story in the traditional North/South or liberal/conservative struggle during the primaries. I think the only reason the story is "Dean/anti-Dean" as opposed to "Northern Democrat versus Southern Democrat" is the fact that Dean's blown the field on his end....and no one has managed to claim the "Southern" title.

But to the people expecting vast waves of people to coalesce around an "anti-Dean" once the winnowing begins...I think you're in for a shock. The polls simply don't support it. If Dean had high unfavorables, I'd agree with you. But as it stands, I think supporters are going to break more or less evenly....I'd expect more Edwards supporters to drift to Clark, and more Kerry supporters to drift to Dean than vice versa, but in the end....it'll even out and supporters will break roughly along national poll lines.

For all the early drama, there's a good chance this turns out to be a fairly dull primary.
:: Morat 11:36 AM :: ::

9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable

9/11 Chair: Attack Was Preventable:
For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

'This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right,' said Thomas Kean.

'As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done,' he said. 'This was not something that had to happen.'
My take on the Bush/9-11/insane secrecy/what-are-they-hiding/did-Bush-know? affair is pretty simple:

Bush didn't know. That is, neither Bush nor any of his staff had any specific knowledge that Al Qaeda was going to slam planes into buildings on 9-11.

What Bush knew, however, was that Al Qaeda was planning something revolving around a hijacking, possible multiple hijackings. It was suspected that Al Qaeda was looking for some form of mass casualty event.

Bush had clear knowledge that something, almost certainly involving planes, was coming down the pipe.

So why the secrecy? To avoid political fallout? It was a very costly mistake. But, in all honesty, the President almost certainly could have limited that damage by moving swiftly to address the perpetrators.

I've always maintained that the issue here wasn't so much White House behavior before 9-11, but White House behavior right after 9-11. Bush used 9-11 to totally overhaul his image. It became the keystone of his entire policy, and was integral to the image he wanted to present as President.

The White House storyline, after 9-11, was one of a President who rose to address the new challenges of terrorism. And to a great extent, the public bought it.

But what happens if we find out that the President, far from rising to meet the challenge of global terrorism, in fact ignored it until Al Qaeda struck? It wrecks the White House storyline. Not because we couldn't forgive such a mistake, but because Bush has spent a year acting in a role that no longer fits.

I think that, quite simply, Bush made a mistake in ignoring Al Qaeda in favor of whatever the 'issue of the week' was. A very large one, to be sure. But that mistake isn't the problem anymore. The problem is that Bush has spent two years leveraging his own failure as an excuse for his agenda. And that, boys and girls, really won't fly once the truth is out.
:: Morat 9:12 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, December 17, 2003 ::

Bush briefed on hijacking threat before September 11 - May 16, 2002

An absurd insinuation:
President Bush's daily intelligence briefings in the weeks leading up to the September 11 terror attacks included a warning of the possibility that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network would attempt to hijack a U.S.-based airliner, senior administration officials said Wednesday.
Of course, as the story points out, No one (except Tom Clancy, of course. And the zillions of Americans who have read his books. And a lot of CIA guys and stuff) could have predicted they would deliberately crash planes into buildings.

I suppose the only solution is to elect Tom Clancy president. Tom?
:: Morat 3:10 PM :: ::

The root of what angers me about Lieberman

Lieberman, lately, has been really ticking me off. Now, I used to tolerate the fellow. I found his moralizing distasteful, but would rise to defend him from the "Not a Real Democrat" crowd. I still think he's a Democrat. I just also think he's an idiot. So why has he been making me angry lately?

Lieberman, it turns out, is a bit upset that Howard Dean would dare claim that capturing Saddam didn't make America safer. Lieberman stated:
``He thinks we're not safer by removing a homicidal maniac,'' Lieberman said in a speech. ``The fact is that Governor Dean has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign that together signal that he would take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend our security.''
[...]
``He seems to believe if you are just against everything, that's enough. Against removing Saddam Hussein, against middle-class tax cuts, against knocking down the walls of protection around the world so we can sell more products made in America,'' Lieberman said. ``Dr. Dean has become Dr. No.''
I'm particularly fond of his "spider-hole of denial" comment, although the article didn't mention it.

So why does that make me angry? Because, roughly speaking, Dean's foreign policy views are pretty consistant to my own. So, in effect, Lieberman is bashing the crap out of me. And, let's face it, quite a few other Americans. It wasn't like Howard Dean is the only American against the Iraqi war...or the only American to think it's doing more harm than good.

Insulting my intelligence, and claiming I'm hiding in a "spider-hole of denial" is not exactly the way to win my vote, Joe.
:: Morat 2:45 PM :: ::

Kerry Staffer's Attack 'On Background' Backfires

Kerry Staffer's Attack 'On Background' Backfires:
Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign spokeswoman is deeply unhappy with the New York Times' chief political correspondent for quoting her criticism of Howard Dean.

The reason? The Massachusetts Democrat's team made the attack in an e-mail to reporters that contained a note asking that it be treated on 'background,' attributed only to a Democratic campaign. Adam Nagourney refused to go along.
Important note to all staffers: Just because you want your smear to stay "on background", doesn't mean it will stay "on background".

Merely telling reporters it's to be "on background" isn't enough. You have to, and this is really important, get the reporter to agree first. See how easy this is? Tell reporter "I'ld like to make a "background" comment. Reporter says "Yes" or "No". If he says "Yes", you make your smear. If he says "No", you move on.

Don't be an idiot and smear first then brightly state "Oh, yeah...can this be one of those background thingies?"

And, for advanced students, especially don't do that to a reporter who has a habit of outing pre-emptive background emails. It's not like Nagourney hasn't been clear on his views on the topic.

Apparently, Kerry's team got the message:
Meanwhile, the Kerry camp has sent another "background" e-mail titled "An Illustrated Guide to Howard Dean's Foreign Policy." Nagourney didn't get one.

:: Morat 10:41 AM :: ::

Pundit Ephiphany

I was flipping channels last night, and I caught part of a segment on Dean. The host of the show -- it was one of those cable news anchor types -- had two political strategists on, one from each party. They discussion was over the Dean's phrase "Capturing Saddam made America no safer".

I look at that and see a self-evident statement. Prior to "capturing Saddam" -- and this includes the entire war -- we had a workable, deployable army. We had Guard and Reserve units across the US, ready to deploy for any emergency, foreign or domestic. We had considerably more money to spend on things like "port security".

And now? Our army is tied up in Iraq. Our Guard and Reserve units are stretched to the breaking point. We've got no way to project power, no troops left to use. In case of earthquake or hurricane, we've got a fraction of the manpower we could have called up a year ago. Worst of all, we've got most of our Middle East experts and intelligence people tied up dealing with Iraq. Instead of, for instance, dealing with Al Qaeda.

Now, I'd expect the GOP pundit to spin past this. It's her job, after all. But the Democratic strategist didn't seem to grasp this either. And that is his job.

Watching this, I came to the staggering conclusion that professional pundits are just as stupid and easily fooled as everyone else. All their vaunted connections, their experience...it just puts them closer to the spin. Here's this man, this Democratic strategist, not even admitting the possibility that Dean might be right. Instead, he was happily agreeing that "Of course Dean is wrong, as we all know" and moving onto "How badly will this hurt Dean?".

Was he dropped on his head as a child? Does he honestly believe that no one could agree with Dean? Does it not occur to him that maybe, just maybe, Dean could be right?

Some pundits avoid this. Krugman, for instance, is safe on economics. He might be wrong, but at the very least he's an expert on the subject...capable of extracting the facts himself, and ignoring the spin. Others actually rely on experience, common sense, and this weird thing called "Fact checking" where they often think about political topics and sometimes even research claims.

But far to many of them just appear to swallow it whole. And last night, I came to the realization that many of these people weren't offering a clearer view on politics. They didn't have special insight. They weren't, in the long run, any smarter or better informed than I was.

They just heard the spin first. And then repeat it to us, verbatim.

So my question is: Why do some of these idiots have jobs? Why do they get paid to write inane 800 word screeds that, in essence, do nothing more than parrot the party line?

And better yet, how can I get a job doing that? I'm pretty sure I could write a biweekly column where I was wrong 75% of the time, and spent the other 25% of my column explaining how I just seemed wrong last week, but was really very right.
:: Morat 9:10 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, December 16, 2003 ::

Texas housewife busted for hawking erotic toys

Atrios pointed out this little gem:
A Texas housewife is in big trouble with the law for selling a vibrator to a pair of undercover cops, and the Brisbane vibrator company she works for says Texas is an 'antiquated place'' with more than its share of 'prudes.''

Joanne Webb, a former fifth-grade teacher and mother of three, was in a county court in Cleburne, Texas, on Monday to answer obscenity charges for selling the vibrator to undercover narcotics officers posing as a dysfunctional married couple in search of a sex aid.
Don't the narcotics cops have anything better to do? Like, I dunno, their jobs?

Speaking as a Texan, let me assure you: This is the sort of prudishness we associate with Alabama. And, well, Beaumont. But only because of that movie with Kevin Bacon.

Just a note for non-Texans: Yes, the small towns are often bastions of stupidity, prudishness, and various other descriptive terms for "Small minded idiots who sincerely believe it's still 1952 and secretly repent giving women and minorities the right to vote".

Luckily, most people in Texas don't live in those small town hell-holes. I live just outside Houston, and I can promise you that a wide variety of stores in this area cater to "prurient interest". In fact, I can think of a couple of very fun and well-stocked stores in Tom DeLay's own district. Not the slightest bit on the seedy, either.

So, rest assured. In Houston, at the very least, you can buy all manner of sex toys, ranging from vibrators to edible underwear to odd collections of chains and locks whose use I haven't quite figured out yet (but my wife and I continue to experiment. Please don't tell the narcs!).....
:: Morat 9:29 AM :: ::

Mr. Gephardt's Reform Values

Looks like the Washington Post isn't afraid of speculating on who is behind the "Dean/Osama" ad. Nor do they let Gephardt, a big proponent of campaign reform, off lightly. Somehow, I don't think this was the response he was hoping for.
OKAY, POLITICAL MONEY buffs, it's time for a game of connect-the-dots.

The machinists union endorses Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). The machinists union makes a 'significant' contribution to Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values (AJHPV), according to union political director Richard Michalski. The same AJHPV, a new organization, runs television ads in Iowa and elsewhere attacking former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Mr. Dean is Mr. Gephardt's leading rival for votes in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

With us so far? Then continue: Leo Hindery, a cable television executive, is a national finance co-chair of the Gephardt campaign. Mr. Hindery is also a backer of AJHPV. The organization's chief fundraiser is a former Gephardt fundraiser, David Jones. Its president, Edward F. Feighan, a former Ohio congressman, has given the maximum $2,000 to the Gephardt campaign.

Is a picture beginning to emerge?
Desperate candidates do desperate things. Does anyone really think such absurdities will resurrect Gephardt's or Kerry's campaign?
:: Morat 9:23 AM :: ::

:: Monday, December 15, 2003 ::

Dean's Foreign Policy Speech

Dean's big speech is up, and damn if it isn't a good one. I didn't see it live, although I've been told the delivery was good and the Q&A afterward was even better. Still, the speech is good.

Most incredible, however, is the section on his plans for dealing with terrorism and proliferation of dangerous weaponry (like, you know, nukes).
Fulfilling the Promise of America: Meeting The Security Challenges of the New Century.
The Nunn-Lugar program has been critical to securing the vast nuclear, chemical, and biological material inventory left over from the Soviet Union. Incredibly, despite the threat that the nexus of terrorism and technology of mass destruction poses, despite the heightened challenges posed by 9-11, the current administration has failed to increase funding for these efforts to secure dangerous weapons. I know that expanding and strengthening Nunn-Lugar is essential to defending America, and I will make that a priority from my first day as President.

Our new alliance will call upon all nations to work together to identify and control or eliminate unsafeguarded components -- or potential components -- of nuclear, chemical and biological arms around the world. These include the waste products and fuel of nuclear energy and research reactors, the pathogens developed for scientific purposes, and the chemical agents used for commercial ends. Such materials are present in dozens of countries -- and often stored with little if any security or oversight.

I will recruit every nation that can contribute and mobilize cooperation in every arena -- from compiling inventories to safeguarding transportation; from creating units specially-trained to handle terrorist situations involving lethal substances to ensuring global public health cooperation against biological terror.
[...]
We and our partners must commit ourselves to using every relevant capability, relationship, and organization to identify terrorist cells, seize terrorist funds, apprehend terrorist suspects, destroy terrorist camps, and prevent terrorist attacks. We must do even more to share intelligence, strengthen law enforcement cooperation, bolster efforts to squeeze terror financing, and enhance our capacity for joint military operations -- all so we can stop the terrorists before they strike at us.

The next President will also have to attack the roots of terror. He will have to lead and win the struggle of ideas.
[...]
The next President will have to work with our friends and partners, including in the Muslim world, to persuade people everywhere that terrorism is wholly unacceptable, just as they are persuaded that slavery and genocide are unacceptable.

He must convince Muslims that America neither threatens nor is threatened by Islam, to which millions of our own citizens adhere.

And he must show by words and deeds that America seeks security for itself through strengthening the rule of law, not to dominate others by becoming a law unto itself.

Finally, the struggle against terrorism, and the struggle for a better world, demand that we take even more steps. The strategic map of the world has never been more complicated. What America does, and how America is perceived, will have a direct bearing on how successful we are in mobilizing the world against the dangers that threaten us, and in promoting the values that sustain us.

Today, billions of people live on the knife's edge of survival, trapped in a struggle against ignorance, poverty, and disease. Their misery is a breeding ground for the hatred peddled by bin Laden and other merchants of death
[...]
Our campaign is about strengthening the American community so we can fulfill the promise of our nation. We have the power, if we use it wisely, to advance American security and restore our country to its rightful place, as the engine of progress; the champion of liberty and democracy; a beacon of hope and a pillar of strength.

We have the power, as Thomas Paine said at America's birth, "to begin the world anew."

We have the power to put America back on the right path, toward a new era of greatness, fulfilling an American promise stemming not so much from what we possess, but from what we believe.

That is how America can best lead in the world. That is where I want to lead America.
Go read the whole thing. Slowly. Word for word. Because, win or lose, that is the sort of foreign policy that works. It's the sort of foreign policy that progressives, that liberals, should be proud of.
:: Morat 12:07 PM :: ::

Lieberman Statement On Saddam Hussein Capture

Lieberman Statement On Saddam Hussein Capture:
This news also makes clear the choice the Democrats face next year. If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place.
Well, Joe, if Dean had his way you'ld be VP right now, and Saddam would still be safely contained in Iraq. In the meantime, the US Army would be hunting for Osama Bin Laden....you remember him, right Joe? The guy that was an actual threat to America? I realize George Bush wants to forget him, in favor of focusing on a country and a leader we can actually locate, but I expect a little more intelligence from you, Joe.

No wonder Gore didn't endorse you. You're a flaming moron.
:: Morat 9:52 AM :: ::

Military: Saddam's Capture Led to Others

Probably not quite the way the Bushies would like this to be played:
Interrogations of Saddam Hussein and documents in his personal briefcase, seized with him, have led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures in Baghdad, a U.S. general told The Associated Press on Monday. Suicide bombers attacked police stations in the capital, killing eight people as the insurgency showed no sign of letting up.
I think that Bush is running a real risk of being caught in his own rhetoric here. As long as Saddam was free, the insurgency could be laid at his feet.

I'm not sure how much luck Bush will have blaming the insurgency, should it continue, on Saddam's aides, or other faceless -- at least to the American public -- Ba'athist figures.
:: Morat 9:16 AM :: ::

:: Sunday, December 14, 2003 ::

Saddam Hussein Captured in Iraq Hideout

Good! Couldn't happen to a better man (for warbloggers out there, calling Hussein a "better man" is an example ofsarcasm. Think about it). Assuming this isn't another double, what next?
Without firing a shot, American forces captured a bearded and haggard-looking Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) in an underground hide-out on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, ending one of the most intensive manhunts in history. The arrest was a huge victory for U.S. forces battling an insurgency by the ousted dictator's followers.
I'm just curious about one thing....how are people going to react when the guerilla war doesn't die down?

The White House has been careful to always link the insurgents and guerrillas to Saddam's regime. It's been "disgruntled Ba'athists", not "Iraqi guerrillas". Perhaps the Administration is right, and the fighting will die down. One can hope....but what happens if -- as seems likely-- it doesn't?
:: Morat 9:19 AM :: ::

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