• March 30, 2005 | 12:18 PM ET
With elections scheduled for tomorrow in Zimbabwe, pro-democracy and human rights enthusiasts are hoping that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe -- who is now being called "Africa's Pol Pot" -- will meet the kind of defeat experienced by dictators in the Ukraine and elsewhere, as the worldwide wave of agitation for democracy continues. Mugabe was once a hero for toppling white rule, but as Nick Kristof recently noted in The New York Times, things have gotten bad enough that Zimbabweans are nostalgic for the old days under Ian Smith's white-only government, when food was plentiful and, ironically, oppression was milder.
But Pol Pot only fell after outside intervention. The most obvious source for that intervention would be its larger, democratic neighbor South Africa. But as the Christian Science Monitor observes, South African President Thabo Mbeki has been rather soft on Mugabe's tyranny. South Africa has sent election monitors, though their chief activity so far seems to have involved heavy drinking, according to an election blog called This is Zimbabwe, set up by pro-democracy activists.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy blogger Publius has created a resource page containing links to all sorts of material on Zimbabwe's elections. Stay tuned, and hope that foreign countries -- South Africa, the U.S., and Europe -- will push for genuine democracy in Zimbabwe.
• March 29, 2005 | 11:47 PM ET
Blogs, nothing to be afraid of
Connecting with the blogosphere
There has been a lot of writing about Big Media and the blogosphere being natural enemies.
I've suggested before, though, that the relationship betwen the two is more symbiotic than it is antagonistic or parasitic. And now some people are starting to prove me right, as various news operations start to incorporate blogs and bloggers into their operations.spacer
MSNBC took the lead in that, in a way, by bringing in bloggers like me, or Eric Alterman, or Alan Boyle. But now the TV operations are doing it to. Today I was on MSNBC's Connected Coast-to-Coast, a show that brings in not only blogs, but a steadily rotating list of bloggers to cover things in the blogosphere. (Also featured have been Jeff Jarvis, LaShawn Barber, and a host of others.) You can see video of my appearance by clicking the image to the left. (Or, if you use a Mac, try going here.)
Likewise, CNN is incorporating blogs -- though not bloggers -- in its coverage of current events, too. And newspapers are trying to ride the blog wave, although they need to realize that there's more to blogging than "attitude." Still, it's a sign of progress, I think.
As Joe Gandelman notes, there are still a lot of Big Media people who are afraid of blogs. But I think that more and more of them are starting to recognize that blogs, and bloggers, are a great resource.
• March 24, 2005 | 6:27 PM ET
• March 23, 2005 | 11:24 PM ET
A conservative crackup?
In their book, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge predict steady growth for the conservative movement in America, unless something goes wrong to derail its trajectory. But things can always go wrong. How could the Republican coalition fail? By being "too Southern, too greedy, and too contradictory."
Right now it's aiming at two out of three. Greed, of course, is not uncommon in politics, but as David Brooks notes, it's on the upswing, with Republicans engaging in the very kinds of behaviors they deplored from Democrats:
Back in 1995, when Republicans took over Congress, a new cadre of daring and original thinkers arose. These bold innovators had a key insight: that you no longer had to choose between being an activist and a lobbyist. You could be both. You could harness the power of K Street to promote the goals of Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich. And best of all, you could get rich while doing it!
Before long, ringleader Grover Norquist and his buddies were signing lobbying deals with the Seychelles and the Northern Mariana Islands and talking up their interests at weekly conservative strategy sessions - what could be more vital to the future of freedom than the commercial interests of these two fine locales?
Before long, folks like Norquist and Abramoff were talking up the virtues of international sons of liberty like Angola's Jonas Savimbi and Congo's dictator Mobutu Sese Seko - all while receiving compensation from these upstanding gentlemen, according to The Legal Times. Only a reactionary could have been so discomfited by Savimbi's little cannibalism problem as to think this was not a daring contribution to the cause of Reaganism.
Not very impressive. Nor is Jack Kemp's behavior in "actively shilling" for Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. And, of course, the bankruptcy "reform" bill -- which, as I mentioned earlier, was a giveaway to big business -- seems to have been based on greed, too.
There's also a lot of contradiction lately. After talking about small government and the rule of law, Republicans overwhelmingly supported a piece of legislation intended to influence a single case, that of Terri Schiavo. As former Solicitor General Charles Fried observes:
In their intervention in the Terri Schiavo matter, Republicans in Congress and President Bush have, in a few brief legislative clauses, embraced the kind of free-floating judicial activism, disregard for orderly procedure and contempt for the integrity of state processes that they quite rightly have denounced and sought to discipline for decades.
I think he's right. As with Bill Hobbs, quoted below, I don't have an opinion on what should happen to Terry Schiavo -- though given the rather large numbers of judges who have looked at this case over the years I'd be especially reluctant to interfere. Can they all be deranged advocates of a "culture of death?" But regardless of the merits, Congress's involvement in this case seems quite "unconservative" to me, at least if one believes in rules of general application. Florida has a general law, and it's been followed. That people don't like the result isn't a reason for unprecedented Congressional action, unless results are all that matter.
Ryan Sager looks at this, in conjunction with last week's hearings on steroids and baseball, and comments:
In coming years, political historians might look back and try to pinpoint the day or week or month that the Republican Party shed the last vestiges of its small-government philosophy. If and when they do, the week just past should make the short list. For it was in this last week that the Republican-controlled Congress made it clear that it sees no area of American life -- none too trivial and none too intimate -- that the federal government should not permeate with its power.
It can all be summed up in two words: steroids and Schiavo. If there is an issue less deserving of Congressional attention than whether a few overpaid, bat-wielding jocks might have injected themselves with substances to help them wield their bats better, then it has yet to be discovered by the House's Government Reform Committee, which held last week's hearings.
But if Congress' dealings with the trivial are appalling, they are nothing compared to its exploitation of the tragic.
There, we have the sad case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a "permanent vegetative state" whose feeding tube had been removed at her husband's urging -- and based on a court's findings regarding her wishes on the matter only to have Congress and President Bush intervene ostensibly on her behalf.
Putting aside the tangled facts of the case for the moment -- which include some bitter family history and selective science on both sides -- the driving question here should be: Does Congress have a role?
And when it comes to a family dispute over a painful medical decision, one which at least 19 judges in six courts have already adjudicated, the answer must be a resounding "no."
The forums for matters such as the Schiavo case are state courts, upholding state laws. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives -- who want Roe v. Wade overturned and the issue of abortion moved back to state legislatures and courts -- should understand this better than any other group of Americans.
A while back, I wrote about the problem of "fair-weather federalism," but judging by the past week things look to be getting much worse. So will the Republican coalition fracture under these pressures?
Quite possibly. National security is the glue that has held Bush's coalition together. The war isn't over, and we haven't won yet, but it's going well -- Austin Bay notes that it's a war that we are winning -- and this is allowing the divisions to show. All of the people I've quoted are on the right, and they're all unhappy. One may argue that libertarians and small-government conservatives aren't a big part of Bush's coalition, but his victory wasn't so huge that the Republicans can surrender very many votes and still expect to win. So this is a real threat. (Some people are even writing articles with titles like Saving the Marriage: Conservatism and Libertarianism.)
Can this marriage be saved? Only if one of the partners -- and it's not the libertarian side -- realizes that its behavior is hurting the marriage, and decides to restrain itself. Are conservatives capable of sufficient self-restraint? On the evidence, that's not to be taken for granted, and it may cost the Republicans. In fact, National Review blogger Jim Geraghty reproduces a couple of reader emails that illustrate how costly it may be:
Just to let you know - this conservative Republican, who has never voted for a Democrat... will probably start doing so - against my financial interests I might add - solely because of the Schiavo action by Congress. I am staunchy pro-life — but in this instance the matter has been litigated over and over, and the evidence is overwhelming that a) there's no hope for recovery for this woman and b) her wish would not to be forced to continue in this horrible state. (and yes, i am putting a value to life - hard to imagine anyone wanting to live this way - it's just common sense) I find her parents' actions unconscionable (the action of putting video of this poor woman out all over the world - how cruel), though I certainly understand the desire to see their child improve....
I'm Republican voter, voted for Bush twice, with high enthusiasm both times...
Today you asked:
"In November 2006, voters across the country will turn against the GOP because they fear that Congress will pass individually-targeted laws that prevent patients from being deliberately starved to death?"
This voter might. I am very, very unhappy right now. Use whatever language you like. This "law," using the word loosely, makes a mockery of federalism.
Geraghty thinks there aren't many voters like this out there. Republican strategists had better hope he's right.
• March 23, 2005 | 2:36 AM ET
Return of the 'Summer of the Shark'!
In the summer before 9/11 the news was all Chandra Levy all the time, and when it wasn't that it was shark attacks. Now it's all Terry Schiavo all the time, and I haven't had much to say about the issue. It's been in the grip of ferocious partisans, and I don't feel I can rely on any of the reports. In other words, I feel a lot like Bill Hobbs, who writes:
I have not written about the Terri Schiavo case because it is too complex, too multilayered, and too steeped in unknown or unknowable facts for me - indeed for most people - to have a fully informed opinion.
I don't know - and neither do you - if Michael Shiavo is trying to murder his wife or trying to fulfill her stated wishes for just such a scenario. I don't know what Terri Schiavo would want - and neither do you - because she didn't tell us via a living will. We have only the word of her husband who assures us that his wife once said she wouldn't want to be kept alive this way, and we have her parents, who love their daughter and desire only to care for her.
I do know that the Congress did the wrong thing, intervened where it had no Constitutional right, and solved nothing.
Yes. For Congress to pass a law aimed at a single individual isn't necessarily unconstitutional (if it were aimed at punishment it would be a bill of attainder, and those are unconstitutional, but it's not, so it isn't). But as Ann Althouse writes, that doesn't make it a good idea:
Congress ought to have given more consideration to the work of the state courts. And even if the statute is constitutional despite its singling out of one person for special, positive treatment, Congress ought to have felt constrained, knowing that it would not routinely give special treatment to other persons like Terri Schiavo. Its unwillingness to write a general law betrays a lack of commitment to any principle -- principle demands general applicability and not favoritism. And don't tell me it was too much of an emergency for it to be possible to draft a generally applicable law. Terri Schiavo's case has been around for years.
Compared to the responsibilities facing Congress -- a war, a budget deficit, Social Security reform, and more -- the Schiavo case isn't very important. Reader Jerry Lawson e-mailed:
I'm looking at the media and the things they're obsessing about, and I'm reminded of the period right before 9/11. Everything was pretty stable, or so we thought, and there were daily media obsessions about stuff which a few days later would be forgotten completely. Hell, I remember vehemently arguing on a newsgroup about something in the news which seemed vitally important ... and three and a half years later I don't remember a thing about the argument other than that we were arguing. Must have been damned important to be so memorable.
But right now, media attention's on Schiavo. Why? Because it's an easy story to cover. Nobody's shooting at the reporters. It's got human interest. It's got politicians jumping through hoops. It pulls a lot of emotions, in all sorts of directions. It's a distraction from the Iraq war, where the media scripts are NOT playing out to the 'proper' conclusion. It's got everything you could want but cute animals. And ultimately - this story's about as meaningful long-term as any tabloid material you're likely to see at the checkout stand. Only the long-term ramifications by lawmakers who desperately need to be perceived as 'Doing Something' will be, IMHO, detrimental in the long run.
I agree. Lawson also wonders if, as in the summer of 2001, something nasty is heading down the pike even as the press and politicians focus on things that are fundamentally sideshows. I don't know -- but I do know that we've got carrier battle groups converging on the Middle East. I'm guessing that whatever they do will be a lot more important than what Congress did this week. But it's certainly getting less attention. A cynic might suppose that's the plan. I almost hope so, since that would mean that someone, at least, has an eye on the ball.
If you'd like to pay attention to something besides the hype-of-the-moment, you'd be better off looking at blogs, where you can find roundups like this one or this one, with the kind of news that often gets ignored in the media hype.
• March 21, 2005 | 5:08 PM ET
Less protection than porn -Regulating political speech
Some years ago, people became worried that secret payments of money might distort the political process on behalf of shadowy, unacknowledged interests. The result was campaign finance "reform," which was supposed to ensure fairness and transparency.
Instead, it has caused confusion -- and an environment in which pornography actually enjoys more First Amendment protection than political speech. I've got nothing against porn, but that seems just wrong, somehow.
The issue has gotten more attention lately, as the Federal Election Commission has started to look at regulating the Internet. At last weekend's Politics Online conference at George Washington University, I gave a joint keynote speech with Federal Election Commission chair Scott Thomas. You can read the transcript (and see video) of his speech here. Thomas's speech was meant to be reassuring, but I didn't find it so. As I commented (transcript and video of my speech here), Thomas's remarks made the most cogent argument I've heard yet for the abolition of the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC will be initiating a rulemaking on this subject, and a coalition of bloggers from across the political spectrum is united in opposition to F.E.C. regulation of Internet political speech.
Meanwhile, it looks as if campaign-finance "reform" was itself the product of hidden interests pumping money into the system under false pretenses:
If a political gaffe consists of inadvertently revealing the truth, then Sean Treglia, a former program officer for the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts, has just ripped the curtain off of the "good government" groups that foisted the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill on the country in 2002. The bill's restrictions on political speech have the potential for great mischief; just last month a member of the Federal Election Commission warned they could limit the activities of bloggers and other Internet commentators.
What Mr. Treglia revealed in a talk last year at the University of Southern California is that far from representing the efforts of genuine grass-roots activists, the campaign finance reform lobby was controlled and funded by liberal foundations like Pew. In a tape obtained by the New York Post, Mr. Treglia tells his USC audience they are going to hear a story he can reveal only now that campaign finance reform has become law. "The target audience for all this [foundation] activity was 535 people in [Congress]," Mr. Treglia says in his talk.
"The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot.
That everywhere [Congress] looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."
Ryan Sager broke the story in this column, and there's additional video on his blog. (No wonder the powers-that-be don't like bloggers!) Was campaign finance reform the result of political corruption and influence-buying? It sure looks like it. And Mickey Kaus wonders at the double standard:
How is the American Prospect different from Armstrong Williams?... If the New York Times took more than $100,000 from General Motors to produce a special issue on Regulation in the Auto Industry, wouldn't there be a stink? Why is it any different if you substitute "Carnegie Corporation" for "General Motors" and "campaign finance regulation" for "auto regulation"--and American Prospect" for "New York Times"?
I don't think it is. But you can bet it will be covered differently.
• March 18, 2005 | 1:38 PM ET
Reality bites back
Charles Krauthammer is savaging the Iraq war critics:
A leftist judge in Spain orders the arrest of a pathetic, near-senile Gen. Augusto Pinochet eight years after he's left office, and becomes a human rights hero -- a classic example of the left morally grandstanding in the name of victims of dictatorships long gone. Yet for the victims of contemporary monsters still actively killing and oppressing -- Khomeini and his successors, the Assads of Syria and, until yesterday, Hussein and his sons -- nothing. No sympathy. No action. Indeed, virulent hostility to America's courageous and dangerous attempt at rescue.
The international left's concern for human rights turns out to be nothing more than a useful weapon for its anti-Americanism. Jeane Kirkpatrick pointed out this selective concern for the victims of U.S. allies (such as Chile) 25 years ago. After the Cold War, the hypocrisy continues. For which Arab people do European hearts burn? The Palestinians. Why? Because that permits the vilification of Israel -- an outpost of Western democracy and, even worse, a staunch U.S. ally.
Championing suffering Iraqis, Syrians and Lebanese offers no such satisfaction. Hence, silence.
And, when silence fails, denial -- I noted the other day the absurdity of Eric Alterman's characterization (quoted here) of Iraq as an "easily predictably failed war." Only to those for whom victory is the same as failure.
Austin Bay, on the other hand, is sounding more hopeful:
Here's my bet: The Bush Administration, Iraqi voters, and Beirut democracy demonstrators have forced the Democrats to either accept a new foreign policy consensus or die politically.
I hope he's right, and I hope the Democrats are smart enough to recognize it.
• March 17, 2005 | 10:44 PM ET
Rove's secret weapon
At a White House press conference this week, a woman named "Elisabeth" asked this question:
THE PRESIDENT: Elisabeth.
Q Paul Wolfowitz, who was the -- a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in our history --
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) That's an interesting start. (Laughter.)
Q -- is your choice to be the President of the World Bank. What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?
At first, some people thought it might have been Elizabeth Becker of The New York Times, whose story on Wolfowitz's appointment -- despite being, allegely, straight reporting and not opinion or "news analysis" -- contained a similar measure of hostility:
President Bush said today that he would nominate Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense and one of the chief architects of the invasion of Iraq two years ago, to become president of the World Bank.
The announcement, coming on the heels of the appointment of John R. Bolton as the new American ambassador to the United Nations, was greeted with quiet anguish in those foreign capitals where the Iraq conflict and its aftermath remain deeply unpopular, and where Mr. Wolfowitz's drive to spread democracy around the world has been viewed with some suspicion.
Despite the displeasure of some diplomats who had hoped that the administration would appoint a person without the almost radioactive reputation of a committed ideologue, they said that they expected Mr. Wolfowitz to receive the approval of the World Bank's board of directors in time for Mr. Wolfensohn's departure in May.
That was a bit much for even the Times, which -- after people around the blogosphere started noticing -- fronted the International section with this rather more muted version.
But it wasn't Elizabeth Becker who asked the loaded question. It was another New York Times reporter, Elisabeth Bumiller. Apparently, Bush just isn't very popular at the Times. Of course, as the Power Line blog notes, he's not very popular with the rest of the press, either. (Power Line notes some errors embedded in the questions and asks: "If reporters are going to preface questions with a long, hostile preamble, is it too much to expect them to get their facts right?") Of course, every time this happens, Karl Rove smiles. Because he knows that the bias, and the self-importance, of the press is one of the biggest assets the Bush Administration has. It seems to be a gift that keeps on giving.
• March 14, 2005 | 10:25 PM ET
The people, united -Demonstrating for democracy
Lebanese pro-democracy protesters turned out in truly astounding numbers today. According to some reports the numbers were over 800,000. Other estimates put the number at over one million. A Turkish news service said two million. But although the numbers are huge -- there seems no doubt that they dwarf any protest in Lebanese history.
spacerProtesters have largely eschewed political or religious divisions, uniting behind the notion of Lebanon as a nation -- they even formed a giant Lebanese flag today. Christians and Muslims (both Sunni and Shiite), men and women: As the New York Times reported:
"Who is going to fight who? All the factions are here." Indeed, the mix of demonstrators was readily apparent in the mix of dress codes, from veiled women to horsemen in traditional Arab headscarves to women with bare midriffs and pierced belly buttons. A few of the banners cemented the theme of unity by displaying both a cross and a crescent.
It was unity:
There were Christians, Sunnis, and Druze, and veterans and first-timers -- united in a common cause to make sure their anti-Syria rally in Beirut was the biggest and noisiest in the country's history.
A month to the day after the huge bomb blast that blew apart his motorcade, many Sunni Muslims took to the streets for the first time with Druze and Christians. Hariri was a Sunni.
It was the Sunni Itani family's first protest. "We came here to commemorate the martyr Hariri's death," Mohammed Itani said. The children grasped balloons carrying Hariri's image.
But it was clear a Beirut protest last week called by the Syrian-backed Shi'ite Muslim Hizbollah group, which drew hundreds of thousands, had galvanised many people.
"We want to show them we are more than the others, Hizbollah and the pro-Syrians," Itani said. "We want Syria out."
Sunnis are traditionally less politicised than Lebanon's other sects.
But Hariri's death angered the community.
There's an old slogan of the protesting Left: "The people, united, will never be defeated."spacer
Maybe it'll turn out to be true. Let's hope. And since various readers tell me that the demonstrations are getting broad coverage in the Arab-language media, let's hope that this example of peaceful demonstrations, in place of terrorism and murder, gives some people hope, and encourages them to take similar action in their own countries. It's certainly inspiring this Egyptian blogger.
Mickey Kaus observes:
But it certainly does seem like the Arab world is blowing through the dialectic of history with impressive speed. The shift from feudalism to capitalism used to take three centuries; now it takes a week and a half! ... OK, that's a wild exaggeration, but you get the point.
The War in Iraq set two trains running. One was the increasing-anger-against-us and more-people-who-will-try-to-kill-us Terrorist Blowback train. The second was the bellicose idealists' Democracy Domino Effect train. It seemed last year as if the first train would pose a threat to the U.S. for decades before the second, rescuing train could catch up with it. Now it looks as if there's at least a chance the second train will catch up sooner than could have been reasonably hoped.
For a less hopeful perspective, you can read Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid. But things will get better in Damascus, too, I suspect. I certainly hope so, and if Western governments keep up the pressure, it will help.
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