CNN’s awful Wonkette

Just saw Wonkette on CNN. She’s being treated like a curiosity rather than as having a real perspective. The discussion with Anderson Cooper was about technology, not politics. And Wonkette’s pretty awful, since she presents as a snotty Valley Girl rather than someone who has developed an understanding of the political scene. Blackberry messaging is “the new crack,” according to Wonkette (who has a real name on the air), a line she stole from about four years ago.

This is going to be embarrassing if she doesn’t start to see things differently than every other dazzled newbie at a convention; and she can’t rip off Molly Ivin’s lines about delegates being more interested in free food if she wants to make a mark on the collective consciousness. As it stands, this is a case of brainless journalism putting bloggers on display, asking them stupid questions—and, worse, getting stupid answer—to reassure themselves that their jobs with the network are safe.

Having built a webcast news network in my day, I can only urge bloggers to resist being presented as a prop for brainless TV journos.

Let’s have more Dave Sifry filtering the political blogosphere and fewer sentences that start with “Like, it’s…”

Studied ignorance and the 9/11 Report

I had a chance to read a little of the 9/11 Commission Report very early this morning and was struck immediately by its studied ignorance of embarrassing facts. It seems to seek ways around identifying the United States’ (and, by extension, the administrations of presidents since 1980) in creating the monster that attacked us on September 11, 2001.

Let’s take one single example, but the most important one: How did Osama bin Laden rise to power? Well, he helped “win” a war against one great Satan, the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan. How did he do it? With direct or indirect U.S. funding. Here’s the passage that deals specifically with this time in history, which appears on page 56 of the printed text:

The international environment for Bin Ladin’s efforts was ideal. Saudi Arabia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance was funneled through Pakistan: the Pakinstani military intelligence service (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID), helped train the rebels and distribute the arms. But Bin Ladin and his comrades had their own sources of support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the United States. [Emphasis added.]

Okay, that’s a pretty extraordinary claim, that out of billions of dollars of funding floating around Osama bin Laden received “little or no assistance” from the United States and Saudi Arabia. He was, after all, a scion of one of the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia and it is doubtful that no money from that country was directed through him; if Saudi used him, so did the United States, because we were relying on the Saudi as our middlemen and guides to the region.

Did the Commission review records of the period for this statement? Presumably, there are records at the Central Intelligence Agency and elsewhere about where billions of dollars and arms were distributed in Afghanistan. If they checked those records, I’d be prepared to accept they could find nothing. But that is not what they did. There is a footnote at the end of this paragraph, so let’s turn to it:

In his memoir, Ayman al Zawahiri [bin Laden’s right-hand commander — ed.] contemptuously rejects claims that the Arab mujahideen were financed (even “one penny”) or trained by the United States. See Zawahiri, “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” Al Sharq al Awsat, Dec. 2, 2001. CIA officials involved in aiding the Afghan resistance regard Bin Ladin and his “Arab Afghans” as having been militarily insignificant in the war and recall having little to do with him. Gary Schroen interview (Mar. 3, 2003).

Hold on…. Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command is the source for the statement that the United States was not funding bin Laden in Afghanistan. Of course Zawahiri would say that, because Arab culture places a high value on loyalty to those who distribute aid in support of Muslim power against infidels, which is exactly what the U.S. was doing in its war conducted through the mujahideen against the Soviets. It would be very bad form for Zahawiri to acknowledge his organization was founded with the help of the Americans.

Gary Schroen, who was CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, between 1996 and 2000, is the other source, but offers only a non-denial denial, that the CIA “recalls having little to do with him.” Why didn’t the Commission demand to see records, since, as Thomas Kean put it during the press conference yesterday, the Commission looked at every piece of paper related to the attacks?

We should remember that the wars by proxy fought with the Soviets gave us most of the worst characters we have had to deal with, from bin Laden to Noriega and a ration of African psychopaths. It was a bad policy, yet it is what we are beginning to do, again, in Iraq, as we use the newly installed Iraqi government to threaten Iran.

We’re not learning, folks.

Blogger does job press won’t do

Great job of simple investigative journalism by Bolo Boffin. He shows that the “lost” records of George W. Bush’s National Guard (lack of) service aren’t lost at all, rebuilding the record from the documents that do exist and that include records for attendance in the previous three quarters. It’s not very flattering for President Bush, nor for the media that bought the idea there was no record to check.

Thanks for the link to Dana Blankenhorn.

Wow, Americans are safer?

From a U.S. Department of State Travel Warning issued today about Iraq:

…The security threat to all American citizens in Iraq remains extremely high, with a high risk of attacks on civilians. International organizations have reduced their staff in Iraq as a result of attacks, bombings and threats to civil aviation. This supersedes the Travel Warning of June 25, 2004.

The Department of State continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous….

All vehicular travel in Iraq is extremely dangerous. There have been numerous attacks on civilian vehicles, as well as military convoys. Attacks occur throughout the day, but travel at night is exceptionally dangerous. Travel in or through Ramadi and Fallujah, travel between al-Hillah and Baghdad, and travel between the International Zone and Baghdad International Airport is particularly dangerous. Occasionally, U.S. Government personnel are prohibited from traveling to select areas depending on prevailing security conditions. There continues to be heavy use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and/or mines on roads, particularly in plastic bags, soda cans, and dead animals. Grenades and explosives have been thrown into vehicles from overpasses, particularly in crowded areas. Travel should be undertaken only when absolutely necessary and with the appropriate security.

For the average Iraqi, things appear to be worse than the prevailing danger during the Saddam Hussein regime. Had the United States worked with the United Nations to enforce the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people, rather than rushing to war, Americans would be seen as being involved and concerned with the health and safety of individual Iraqis and Muslims rather than at war with them.

Of course, the perceived threat of terror is how we measure our security these days. If that’s the case, the constant addition of terrorist organizations to our lists of such organizations seems to indicate the world is becoming increasingly dangerous. This compels a “war approach” to the world (think of President Bush gesturing to his head on Meet The Press and saying “I make decisions with war on my mind”) that increases the alienation of America from the concerns of individuals around the world, since our administration now encourages the abridgment of liberty in favor of security. For example, the State Department today added Nepal’s Communist Party to the list of terror organizations. So, it’s dangerous there, too:

U.S. citizens are advised to avoid road travel outside the Kathmandu Valley unless they have reliable information that they can proceed safely in specific areas at specific times. In March 2004, Maoist leaders announced road closures (blockades) in certain western and southern districts of Nepal. However, The Embassy received widespread reports of Maoists forcibly blocking major roads throughout the country, including roads to Tibet, India, Chitwan, Pokhara, and Jiri. Recently, Maoists forcibly blocked all traffic in areas surrounding Pokhara, preventing the departure of tourists for an extended period and causing some to miss their international flights from Kathmandu. Other district centers have been blockaded without warning. U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu for the latest security information, and to travel by air whenever possible.

Because of heightened security risks, U.S. official personnel do not generally travel by road outside the Kathmandu Valley. All official travel outside Kathmandu Valley, including by air, requires specific clearance by the Regional Security Officer. As a result, emergency assistance to U.S. citizens may be limited. Active duty military and DoD contractors must obtain a country clearance for official and unofficial travel to Nepal.

U.S. citizens who travel or reside in Nepal despite this Travel Warning should factor the potential for violence into their plans, avoid public demonstrations and maintain low profiles while in Nepal.

Safer indeed. According to the Department of State, during the past three or so months, Americans’ safety in the following countries has changed (not become unsafe, just changed, the total list is much longer): Nigeria, Algeria, Haiti, Bahrain, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kenya, Lebanon, Iran, Yemen, Burundi, Israel and the West Bank, Central African Republic, Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, and Liberia. Only Libya is deemed to have improved, but we are actually relying on a totalitarian government there to ensure Americans’ security.

Sean Hannity cries for our leaders because they can’t do it themselves

I read the transcripts of State Department and Department of Defense media appearances and have been struck by the recurring theme in the opening conversations with Secretaries Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld by Sean Hannity on his ABC Radio program : He feels sorry for them and thinks it’s really quite unfair that anyone should criticize these public servants. Take today’s appearance by Secretary Powell:

(5:35 p.m. EDT)

MR. HANNITY: Joining us now on our newsmaker line is Secretary of State, no stranger to these microphones, a good friend, Colin Powell. How are you, sir?

SECRETARY POWELL: Hi, Sean, how are you today?

MR. HANNITY: You know, I’ve got to be honest, I don’t know — you really sacrifice for your country, and I, you know I read this stuff about you guys being under attack. You’ve got to get sick of this.

SECRETARY POWELL: Oh, it’s just part of business up here in Washington, and, you know, Sean, you just come in here every day, as I try to do, and as the President does, and do what you think is right for the American people and just drive through all of this.

MR. HANNITY: Well, you know something, you don’t get this credit enough. You know, Mr. Secretary, you could be out on the speaking circuit, you could be out writing books and making millions and millions of dollars a year, but you wanted to go back and serve your country. And I just wish the level of rhetoric in this country, especially from the left towards conservatives right now, would slow down, and I wish there would be some consideration of the personal sacrifice that people like you and other people give to the country.

Enough said. Mr. Hannity dishes out truckloads of abuse and cries foul at legitimate questions about American policy making that has, so far, led to the deaths of 900 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Who started the attack politics? Mr. Hannity certainly had some part in it.

The simplest steps to greater democracy

Jock Gill writes at Greater Democracy about the silence of the conventional party system. Delegates, once selected, have little or no dialogue with voters; the Jock proof provides is the list provided to delegates to the Democratic convention that has no email addresses or any way to make contact with them via the Internet.

The problem exists in plain old analog communications. For example, I have had no follow-up communication from the Democratic party about who was selected to attend the state and national conventions, even though I took the time to attend caucuses. This is because there is a disconnect in American politics between the volunteer and the activist citizen, and the volunteers have ruled the political marketplace for generations.

Volunteers get their satisfaction from having helped a cause they care about, but do not generally have voice. I received a mailing from the Democracy for America team in my state today asking what days of the week that I want to do volunteer work for candidates. It was taken for granted that my time is available.

Activists, on the other hand, want something for their energy. They’re decidedly more marketplace-of-ideas oriented and if their agenda isn’t addressed will find somewhere else to put their effort and support.

The parties do address the activists behind the scenes. If the parties were to open the channels of communication, they would find volunteers continue to do their work without demands–many people are perfectly happy to support someone or a cause they believe in without any sense they have been denied a return on their effort. What would change is that coalitions of activists would make more demands on the parties as their networks of influence grew and changed. It’s a headache that party people, who are pretty happy with the way things worked when they achieved power, don’t want or cannot invite willingly.

So, we shouldn’t expect the parties to change until we change them. Activism has to work its way into the party structure with the intention of opening the whole system, not taking power and closing the door. That requires a significant change in human nature, if you ask me.

But the process put in place to make the change can save us from our lesser selves. Susan Mernit wrote last week about the kinds of evolution she would like to see in political coverage this year. Her insight, that adding populist tools to monolithic media will change those old media. Putting blogs, community tools, social networks, individualized syndication and other tools in place and keeping them there does keep the channels for future voters open.

Electoral politics has been revolutionized and opened to wider input before, by the populist movement, the changes to the balloting process and the introduction of public initiatives during the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights and student voter registration movements of the 1960s. But the tendency has been for those revolutions to give way to retrograde movements that shut the channels that brought new generations to power. Some of the new openness remains, but it is never quite as bright as the moment before the activists win.

This year, removing President Bush from power will be perceived a success, but it is only a part of a wider movement to democratize communication. Jock Gill’s point that a key democratic battle will be seen in the governance of wireless communications is deeply correct: Wiring society with rules and systems that make maximum dialogue is the heart of democratic change. If we stop with winning the White House and fall back on the idea that with a click-to-donate campaign candidates can win big elections, most of the democratic evolutionary force will be lost.

More communication, not just blogs and email, is necessary. The parties need to recognize that engagement with active voters is a two-way street not just a call to action for volunteers. Making activists is hard, because the motives driving people vary so much, but treating everyone like an activist could keep them far more engage and unleash substantially more political energy. That movement becomes self-renewing as activists are born and could reinvigorate the parties as it changes them and can be built on simple tools.