Thursday, April 30, 2009

Greenpeace :)

What was the coolest thing about Greenpeace's banner drop this week in DC? That the new ED of Greenpeace USA, Phil Radford, was part of it. There he is, they say.

Having fun with Twitter

Saw this on Jason's blog:

"INTERNET-AGE WRITING SYLLABUS AND COURSE OVERVIEW" ("Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era") courtesy of McSweeney's.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Um, and why is Specter changing parties good news?

I think the whole thing doesn't matter that that much; it's not like cloture votes during this congress have come down exactly on party lines, and that Specter will now necessarily vote for cloture whereas previously he would have voted against. Hardly.

Had Specter stayed with the GOP, the CW, and I think it was probably correct, was that he would have lost the primary to the very conservative Toomey. And then it's not particularly likely that Toomey would have beaten the Democratic candidate, whoever that would have been. So we most likely would have ended up with a 'real' Democrat in the seat after the 2010 election.

As it is now, any Democrats challenging Specter in the primary will likely have a tough battle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh, Eric Cantor

Ok, this is just getting weird: Glenn Thrush of Politico reports today that the DCCC is criticizing Eric Cantor for supporting rail improvements between DC and Richmond, when Cantor was one of the ones who was on the mythical "don't fund the maglev to Disneyland!" bandwagon (a conspiracy theory that Harry Reid had secretly inserted funding in the stimulus bill for a maglev train from Las Vegas to Disneyland. In reality, part of the $8 billion in stimulus funds for high speed rail could go toward a Vegas-LA line, though it's not that likely, since it's not one of the corridors the rail administration has designed as a priority).

Politico reports:
Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said the key difference between the Vegas-LA line and the Richmond-DC plan is that the latter has long been included on the DOT's list of "planned corridor" projects and the Harry-Reid-backed Vegas project isn't.]]

So Cantor gets that the Vegas line was not on the existing list of most likely projects? But he thinks that Reid was secretly putting in separate funding specifically for a Vegas line?

Maybe making sense of Eric Cantor is one of those things that's just not worth it. Unfortunately Glenn Thrush didn't get the nonsensicalness of it all.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In which Chris Hayes gives us hope

Everyone is doing their 100-days stories! And it's not even 100 days yet. Politico even had theirs up back on Friday, but it's not worth a link!

I have found one 100-days piece I really liked, though, from Chris Hayes. I've generally been a fan of his.

In his piece this week he assesses the Obama presidency and the state of Washington. While he finds much to dislike -- "a class of Democratic operatives who seem to have no beliefs, principles or commitments, or who once had them but have been co-opted" -- he ends up coming down with a view that we should be optimistic about where things are headed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


An email, from an airline, telling me about how I can be green? Really?

Here's what the email from Jet Blue said today:
No matter what your stance is on today's environmental issues, there's no question that a cleaner, greener planet is good for all of us. Just by making small changes in your daily habits, you can help make the world a greener place!

Start by pledging to do One Thing That's Green. It's our way of honoring Earth Day today, April 22, and taking steps together to make a difference. Our goal is to inspire 22,000 people to pledge—help us get there by making the promise and passing it on!

I clicked on the link and it took me to this page, where it gives you five specific options of things you can pledge you'll do to be green:
I will reduce my shower time.
I will combine trips to use less gas or use public transit.
I will replace standard light bulbs with energy efficient ones.
I will wash my clothes in cold water as much as possible.
I will adjust my thermostat by 2 degrees F cooler during the heating season, and 2 degrees F warmer during the cooling season.

Not among the options: I will take fewer airplane trips.

Torture update: much has changed in last 24 hours

Obama's comments on Tuesday (transcript) -- not ruling out the prosecution of the architects of torture policy -- were a huge shift from the past.

To Greenwald, the story today is not that Obama "[leaves the door open]" to prosecutions, it's actually "[Obama officially recognizes that the law is the law, and therefore it is the Attorney General's decision whether to prosecute, and the White House will not violate the law by politically interfering with an AG's decision to prosecute, should such a decision be made.]"

The White House press corps went at Gibbs for 45 minutes or so on the subject of torture accountability, which has never happened so far with this administration. That's exciting. But Sam Stein recounts how much of the questioning was about a political game -- who said what when and who were they influenced by -- and not about the actual issue of accountability for torture.


And now a couple updates on the language around torture:

- Greg Sargent reports that Obama and crew have mostly moved away from using the word 'torture', instead usually using terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques." This is a dangerous development.

- The Washington Post's good editorial Tuesday on torture first uses the term "waterboarding", but later uses the term "water torture". Good for them. We need to go back to "water torture" because that's what it's called. The U.S. called it that back in the day because, well, the term "waterboard" hadn't even been made up. OTM had a really interesting rundown on the terms "waterboard" and "simulated drowning" back in 2007 that's worth a listen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NYT: Obama might not be able to avoid torture inquiry

From "Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations" on Tuesday's front page:
Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” But there were signs that he might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of interrogation techniques that the president’s top aides and many critics say crossed the line into torture.

Gosh, I hope that's correct. They don't usually go predicting the future ("signs that he might not be able to avoid") just on a whim. I'm not sure, though, that the reporting in the article quite proves the thesis. But hopefully they know what they're talking about.

The best part is near the end of the article:
Others pushing for more investigation included Philip D. Zelikow, the former State Department counselor in the Bush administration. On his blog for Foreign Policy magazine and in an interview, Mr. Zelikow said it was not up to a president to rule out an inquiry into possible criminal activity. “If a Republican president tried to do this, people would be apoplectic,” he said.

This gets to what I wrote earlier -- about the politicization of the Justice Department. That's what we'd call it if it were a Republican president. No different if it's a Democrat.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A few thoughts on torture

It's been a busy few days on the torture front (see Daphne Eviatar for some great coverage).

The best way I can see all the news is that Obama did leave the door open to some kind of accountability or truth mechanism (but not prosecution) for those who did the torturing themselves and, more importantly, the architects of the torture policy. It's not much, but it's something.

Sometimes I can't imagine that, deep down, he doesn't "get it" on this issue, especially with his law background. Yet he hasn't given us any hints for a long time that he does. And the best we can hope for at this point -- that he'll do something on this once he's achieved some of his other goals -- is made more difficult by many of his own words, words that he doesn't need to say. For example:
"But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."

That's just saying rather stupid stuff that he could have left out while making the same policy choices he did. It's bonus right-wing rhetoric, especially that last sentence.

One way I'd like to see this whole issue framed in the coming days and months is one of politicization of the Obama Justice Department.

The question to be asked of Obama and Holder is, "under this precedent -- of not investigating/prosecuting crimes -- what other felony-level crimes does this administration believe should not be prosecuted?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


From Streetsblog:
At a press event in DC yesterday, President Obama touted the two thousandth transportation project to receive federal stimulus funds. I'm speculating a bit here, but the White House probably had some discretion when choosing which item to highlight for this milestone. So did they pick a refurbished transit station? A new bike route? Perhaps a bridge repair project to signal that we're not going to repeat the mistakes that led to the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis?

None of the above. The same president who proclaimed the days of building sprawl to be over boasted about the widening of a highway interchange near Portage, Michigan from four lanes to six.

Politico picks up on criticism from Obama's left

The lefty blogs have been making another push in recent days and weeks to nail the Obama Administration for being so Bush-like in many of their policies on executive branch authority, legal status of detainees and other issues. Josh Gerstein of Politico covers the story with "Legal left cools toward Obama." It's not perfect but I think he mostly does a decent job bringing up some of what the Obama team has been up to of late and why it's significant.

Rethinking Columbine 10 years later

USAToday jumps ahead of the 10 year Columbine anniversary (that's next Monday) with a story on the myths of the killings:
They weren't goths or loners.

The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia," disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and "fags."

Monday, April 13, 2009


Chris Cillizza, a popular favorite on who also writes for the print edition, can be a fun read. You think you're getting the real deal of what's going on in electoral politics (he covers a lot of upcoming congressional election stuff). But sometimes he writes stuff that is rather ridiculous.

Monday, in one of his periodic round-ups of what to look for in 2010 and 2009 primary races, he drops this:
With so few issues differentiating the candidates, primaries are decided on style and strategy -- things The Fix loves about politics.


For a perfect example of why it is, of course, not always the case, one needs to look only six paragraphs further in Cillizza's column, where he announces his #1 ranked upcoming primary to look out for: the Pennsylvania Senate contest in 2010 -- where conservative extremist Pat Toomey is challenging incumbent Republican moderate Arlen Specter in a primary.

What we have to look forward to

In Sunday's Outlook section, the Washington Post gave space to Jamie Kirchick, an up-and-coming pundit, to write about how gay rights groups should declare victory and close shop when gay marriage is implemented in their states.

This is, I fear, a talking point we'll be hearing more and more. The scary thing is that it will come not just from the 100%-officially-anti-gay people, but also from gay conservatives like Kirchick and even many people who consider themselves gay moderates -- and that could give it an air of legitimacy (I think that this point has already been demonstrated -- by the Post printing this piece).

The question here -- of what the LGBT rights groups will do as gay marriage becomes law in more states -- is extremely interesting and important. In the states where gay marriage is law, like Massachusetts, how much of the groups' grassroots energy and funding has been lost? Before marriage became law, how much of their resources were going to advocacy that was not about marriage? If they have lost resources, is the total amount they are now dedicating to non-marriage-related advocacy higher, or lower, than before?

In states where gay marriage may become law in the next few years, are the biggest state-level advocacy groups -- many of whom built at least a bit of their membership on the marriage issue -- making clear to their members that when gay marriage is won, they will be continuing the fight? Are they doing the opposite?

Obviously, the state-level and smaller groups are hardly monolithic. They have a huge range. Some publicly consider marriage to be their primary issue.

In the case of Massachusetts -- where Kirchick calls for MassEquality to disband -- Bay Windows reports the inspiring news that "nearly 300 transgender people, allies, advocates and legislators" turned out for a recent lobby day, spearheaded by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, for a bill that would "add gender identity and, expression to protected groups in the state’s hate crimes and nondiscrimination statutes."

It's not a matter, in the end, of which group with which name does what. The question is, when a state adopts gay marriage, will the activism on LGBT issues die down (regardless of what groups it is under), or will it remain vibrant?

The framing of gay-marriage as "the end" of the struggle is a serious threat to future LGBT advocacy, not because it will fool any real advocates, but because it will make it harder to win the support and energy of the moderates. No, the moderates aren't the vanguard, or the be-all-and-end-all, but their support does matter.

The meme of gay-marriage as "the end" needs to be knocked down now. If we wait until after gay marriage is ubiquitous, it will be much, much trickier to do.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Michigan Central Station to be demolished

The Detroit News makes this sound like it's probably a done deal.

Michigan Central was once Detroit's main train station. The building has been abandoned since 1988, when Amtrak pulled out. Use was on the downhill for years before that.

Obviously there's nothing great about abandoned buildings. If no one wants to use it for something else, then that's how it is. Maybe the city was right to decide it would be too difficult to use for other purporses.

The true tragedy is not so much the upcoming demolition, but of course the decline of railroads in this country, something that happened many decades ago. Still, it seems awfully sad to destroy one of the more stunning buildings we have.

Read more on the history here and see photos here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

If you are criticized from multiple sides, does that mean you are right?

All Things Considered indulged in running this on Friday during their letters section:
Kevin Bee from New Orleans was reading other's online post and he writes this, one listener claimed that you were being too sympathetic to the Israeli cause by not highlighting Israel's aggression that started the conflict. Another listener suggested that you were sympathetic to Palestine by ignoring the violence caused by suicide bombers. In my opinion, he writes, if both extremes accuse you of being biased, it proves you are doing a good job, keep up the good work.

We've heard this line too many times, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and otherwise. During the Gaza war, NYT Managing Editor Jill Abramson wrote "I see a backwards vote of confidence in The Times’s reporting, given that every identifiable faction in this fractured collision of peoples and injustices believes so firmly that we are taking a side — someone else’s."

This idea is stupid. There are plenty of things in the world, news articles or other things, that are criticized from a variety of sides, and are in fact bad. The good news is, some in the news biz are pushing back.

NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt wrote this in response to Abramson: "It can be risky for editors and reporters to think that if everyone in a dispute is angry with them, then they must be doing something right."

And just the other week, NYT Foreign Editor Susan Chira wrote: ".. we do not lull ourselves into believing that just because both sides are angry at us, we are off the hook — to borrow a coinage from James Bennet, a former Jerusalem bureau chief .."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Kayak of bus tickets

Via DCist:

A new website, Bus Junction, lets you search for bus tickets across a number of companies (useful if you are traveling DC-NY or NY-BOS). It's missing a few of the companies, though.

Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and the Right Wing Agenda

Last week, 10 Democratic Senators joined the Republicans (roll call) in decreasing the estate tax. They upped the minimum to a $5 million estate for individuals and $10 million for couples, and lowered the rates.

Kudos to the NYT editorial page for listing all 10 names.

In addition to some of the Dems you might expect, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray joined team Right Wing.

It's good news for the Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser and former WaMu execs and a few others; bad news for the rest of their constituents.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Where are the reporters in Darfur right now?

Darfur has been, relatively speaking, stable for the past few years. Not stable in a good way; stable in a 150 people being killed each month way. More than 2 million Darfuris are displaced from home, mostly living in various camps, mostly in Sudan and some in Chad. The situation continues to be terrible, though nothing at all like the mass killing of 2003-2005. The Darfuris in these camps are being fed and given basic medical care by a vast aid network.

Now that might all change. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir on March 4th. President Bashir then started expelling many of the aid groups.

There's a fascinating debate going on between the justice absolutists and whatever you call the other side. The justice absolutists (this basically includes Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Save Darfur Coalition, Kristof -- though they have very different takes on many of the issues) say that you can't bargain away justice for expediency. You can't delay trying to bring Bashir to justice on the hope that doing so might help lead to a peace deal. And, they argue, the arrest warrant could help lead to other countries turning against him, or even the end of his government.

The other side would probably call themselves something like 'pragmatists' -- they say that while of course justice ultimately should be done, the consequences of issuing the arrest warrant against Bashir right now appear to be high (aid workers kicked out), while the benefits appear to be low (Bashir isn't actually being arrested, and it's unclear if/how he will be any time soon). Alex de Waal has been in the news on this side in the US.

Anyhow, the situation in Darfur is in the process of changing drastically. The aid groups that have been kicked out represent more than half of the aid network, according to Eric Reeves, who provides an insanely comprehensive brief on this. Already in the past couple of weeks we have started to see the initial reports of food shortage and the lack of basic medical care

The larger humanitarian crisis will begin in the next several weeks, if nothing changes.

This was actually supposed to be a post about the news coverage of what's happening now, so forgive me for getting distracted in the backstory. Now to the news story:

The NYT had an initial piece from Darfur on March 22, by photographer Lynsey Addario. It was compelling and showed that things are headed in a very bad direction.

What's odd is the silence since then. The NYT's Lydia Polgreen (who does most of their Darfur coverage, much of it superb) hasn't had a byline for 2 weeks. The Post's Stephanie McCrummen, who's also done lots of good work, hadn't had a byline for more than 3 weeks until today's from Nairobi (pirates!). Maybe she was there and hasn't written it up yet. The LAT's Edmund Sanders has a byline from Nairobi today as well. GlobalPost has nothing.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in Darfur, though her first story a few days ago was on basketball.

The AP's Sarah El Deeb has been the one on the case right now, along with AP photographer Nasser Nasser.

It's worth nothing that John Kerry will also be headed to Darfur next week.

The big papers have covered Darfur relatively extensively over the years (unlike TV). My guess is that they will in fact be all over this story in the coming weeks, even despite whatever obstacles the Sudanese government puts in their way. Polgreen and Thompkins may very well be out in a camp somewhere now. I'm just saying I'm getting anxious to see more news on this.

In which members of congress play basketball

DC can be so humble and amusing sometimes: here's a video news report on this year's annual charity basketball game between members of congress and Georgetown law professors.

NYT covers being gay in Iraq

The front page of Wednesday's NYT has "Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder" --
The relative freedom of a newly democratic Iraq and the recent improvement in security have allowed a gay subculture to flourish here. The response has been swift and deadly.

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

It's a devastating but well reported story, and the reporters (Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher, plus six other contributors) deserve kudos for doing it. It's an incredibly difficult issue to report, and that's probably part of the reason not very many people have.

My one objection is that they skipped over the history. They wrote:
Gay men and lesbians in Iraq have long been among the targets of both Shiite and Sunni death squads, but their murders have been overshadowed by the hundreds of overall weekly casualties during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

They don't say anything about the older history, which is awfully important to understand the issue.

That history was summarized in the Times' previous story on this issue, by Cara Buckley in December 2007:
For a brief, exhilarating time, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, they say, gay night life flourished in Iraq. Whereas neighboring Iran turned inward after its Islamic revolution in 1979, Baghdad allowed a measure of liberation after the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

Abu Nawas Boulevard, which hugs the Tigris River opposite what is now the Green Zone, became a promenade known for cruising. Discos opened in the city’s best hotels, the Ishtar Sheraton, the Palestine and Saddam Hussein’s prized Al-Rasheed Hotel, becoming magnets for gay men. Young men with rouged cheeks and glossed lips paraded the streets of Mansour, an affluent neighborhood in Baghdad.

“There were so many guys, from Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia, guys in the street with makeup,” said Mr. Hili, who left Iraq in 2000. “Up until 1991, there was sexual freedom. It was a revolutionary time.”

Then came the Persian Gulf war, and afterward Saddam Hussein put an end to nightclubs. Iraq staggered under the yoke of economic sanctions. While antigay laws were increasingly enforced, Mohammed and Mr. Hili said they still felt safe. Homosexuality seemed accepted, as long as it was practiced in private. And even when it was not tolerated, prison time could be evaded with a well-placed bribe.

The American invasion was expected to usher in better times.

“We thought that with the presence of Americans, life would become paradise, that Iraq would be Westernized,” Mohammed said. “But unfortunately the way things were before was so much better than where we are now.”

Monday, April 06, 2009

That makes a dozen: the Washington Post fronts Facebook again

Monday's "The Profile Police" (sub-head: Campus Officers Cruise Facebook, MySpace for Clues To School-Related Crimes, to Some Students' Chagrin) is as much about MySpace as it is about Facebook, but I think there's enough Facebook in it that it counts: it's the 12th front page story in the Washington Post that significantly focuses on Facebook. The stories are:

Sept 2006, Oct 2006, Feb 2007, Nov 2007, March 2008, April 2008, May 2008, June 2008, July 2008, Sept 2008, March 2009, April 2009.

The new A1 piece, coming just 32 days after the last one, is the first Facebook article by Michael Birnbaum, who mostly covers schools in Northern Virginia. The article reports... exactly what'd you expect, because you've already heard about high school students who write too much on their pages and get caught.

You could go back to, say, USA Today in March 2006, the Boston Globe in May 2006, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in December 2006 or the Daily Herald of Illinois in January 2008. There have also been lots of pieces focusing on the issue at college campuses, such as this frequently-cited NYT item from January 2006.

I'm not saying that media outlets should ignore a story just because someone else beat them to it. When, for example, the Toledo Blade broke the story a few years ago of the war crimes committed by the Tiger Force in Vietnam, the majors should have reported the story as soon as possible, and prominently (most didn't). Or when Charlie Savage, then of the Boston Globe, essentially broke the story of Bush's signing statements, the majors should have reported it prominently to their readers/viewers/listeners (most didn't).

This is different. Here we have a story that is true and continues to be relevant, but is rather old news ("olds," as one of my former bosses would put it). The Post is right to catch up and report it, but not on A1.

I've written previously of my theory that Marchus Brauchli put a stop to the Post's Facebook obsession. When he started as the top editor in September, Facebook's reign on A1 -- a 2-year stretch with 8 articles -- came to an end. We had six Facebook-free months on the front page, but now we've been hit with two of these things. Unfortunately, my theory is dead.

Couldn't they at least switch to obsessively fronting Twitter, or something? Hmm, maybe in a year or two.



Smoking Smarties

Have people heard of this? I hadn't, until I saw the article in the WSJ the other week. Apparently the cool thing to do (at least in some middle school somewhere) is to take a wrapped roll of Smarties, to crush them a little bit, and then to breath in from the end of the tube and exhale it like smoke. There are a bunch of videos on YouTube, though not tons. This one is basically amazing. Seems the trend has been around since at least Dec 2007.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Twitter in today's news

Guardian newspaper to switch to all-Twitter format after 188 years in print.
"[Celebrated Guardian editor] CP Scott would have warmly endorsed this - his well-known observation 'Comment is free but facts are sacred' is only 36 characters long," a spokesman said in a tweet that was itself only 135 characters long.

Chicago 2016

Chicago's bid for the 2016 summer Olympics is back in the news -- an IOC team will be visiting town starting Thursday.

The earlier talk had been that Chicago was quite an underdog, but that seems to be changing. Reuters says now that really anything is possible. The other finalists are Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo; the IOC vote is on October 2nd of this year.

The Olympics are, more often than not, bad for cities; Chicago would be particularly bad. People in Chicago and the area have real needs that aren't being met, be it on transit or public health or public safety. Little of what will be done for 2016 will help most of them; in many cases it will get in their way. Much of the funding would be private, but the point remains.

Then there's Chicago city government. They wouldn't be running the show, of course, but they'd have a significant role. I don't want to sound like a conservative, but, they just can't get things done.

Obama has been a strident Chicago 2016 supporter. Reuters points out that high-level lobbying often makes a difference in swinging IOC votes, and suggests that Obama's personal involvement could be make or break.

Assuming the economy is still pretty rotten by late summer or early fall, does Obama really want to be out there saying we should start spending money on these stadiums and such right now? Hopefully, the politics will push Obama a bit away from a full embrace of Chicago 2016.

Lastly, there's the issue of international leverage. The Beijing 2008 games set the precedent fairly clearly -- you have some leverage to pressure a powerful country before the site decision is announced (say, on human rights), but after the city wins the games, there's not all that much that you can do (especially when we're talking the United States).

So that leaves 6 months where the United States, through it's Chicago 2016 bid, could actually be somewhat susceptible to international pressure. What should the benchmarks be? I don't know. That would take some discussion, and outside of Chicago, it's unfortunately not happening.

I'll go with this thought for now: no IOC member should vote for Chicago if prosecutions of Bush administration officials for authorizing torture have not yet commenced by October 2nd.