Saturday, March 20, 2004

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The High Cost of Blogging:
the price of success is the bill for the band width

Despite the fact that there are thousands, maybe millions of people blogging, there are only a handful of people at the top tier. And when one of them says that the party may be coming to an end, the rest of us had better lift our foreheads off the keyboards and pay attention.

The Devil has come for Billmon. He's been putting out a quality product that has attracted a large number of readers. They in turn have generated lots of comments on his site. He's done all this on his own dime: no ads, no requests for support from his readers.

But now his ISP is telling him that he's been using so much band width that he's going to have to start paying for the volume. And that's not going to come cheap. In his own words:
I can't shake the suspicion that the golden age of blogging is almost over -- that the corporate machine is about to swallow it, digest it, and regurgitate it as bland, non-threatening pablum. Our brief Summer of Love may be nearing an end.
Unfortunately, for Whiskey Bar the future is now.
No, I'm not selling out to Time Warner ABC Disney Capital Cities Fox Viacom Clear Channel General Electric Microsoft Inc. But I have been informed by the owner of my host service that, effective April 1, he's going to start charging me for bandwidth usage.
Instead of selling ad space on his site, Billmon has decided to put up a couple of donation buttons. I have a few thoughts on this. First, I don't think ads are evil. It is perhaps a tad ironic that, because of their graphics, ads take up much more bandwidth than plain text. So in a sense, we as a community are being forced to increase the bandwidth problem in order to pay for it (sounds a little like "we had to destroy the village in order to save it," doesn't it?).

But to take Josh Marshall as an example (since he made the choice to begin accepting political ads a few months ago), the content of his site certainly hasn't suffered as a result of including some advertising. And the political ads that he, Atrios, and others have run have raised my political awareness a bit. If ads on the blogs I read regularly become offensive, or even obnoxious, I'll likely go elsewhere for my daily dose of content.

So, if Billmon needs to run some ads, I hope he will. Sure, he's got a day job. But he's also got a family and kids that will need to pay for college some day. So do it, Billmon. Make some money. Pay your bandwidth bills and put a little extra away for your kids, your retirement, or your favorite charity.

In the meantime, I think we should all go over to the Whiskey Bar and tip the bartender. He gives you your choice of PayPal or Amazon. Do it today, before the really good stuff in the blogosphere disappears into a sea of pop-up ads for biological enhancement products.

** UPDATE ** -- Saturday afternoon:

Billmon says he received over $4,000 in just 24 hours from his loyal readers. As a result, he's pulled the tip jars off of his site.

That's really great. Thanks to all who gave.

If you've decided you really want to support a blogger, but missed your chance, feel free to click on the Make a Donation button in the far left column and kick in a few coins to the Send the Rain Storm to Boston Fund. We'll be blogging live from the Democratic National Convention, and while we're sure the weather in Boston is lovely in July, we would just as soon not have to sleep on the street. And we thank you for your support.

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Oh the Shame!
Children know what is really embarrassing

Looks like about once a week I'll succumb to posting internet humor. But hey, laughter is good. Thanks to HM.
Little David was in his 5th grade class when the teacher asked the children what their fathers did for a living. All the typical answers came up --- Fireman, policeman, salesman, etc... David was being uncharacteristically quiet and so the teacher asked him about his father.
"My father's an exotic dancer in a gay cabaret and takes off all his clothes in front of other men. Sometimes, if the offer's really good, he'll go out to the alley with some guy and make love with him for money."
The teacher, obviously shaken by this statement, hurriedly set the other children to work on some coloring, and took Little David aside to ask him, "Is that really true about your father?"
"No," said David, "He works for the Bush administration, but I was too embarrassed to say that in front of the other kids."

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Uncle Duke on
Bush and Basketball

Writing at ESPN's page 2, Hunter Thompson compares the NCAA Basketball Tournament with the presidential race:
For myself, I would much prefer to be stuck with Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, than stuck with George Bush in the White House. It is the difference between losing your wallet at a cock fight and losing all your credit cards forever, along with your job and your house and your ability to earn enough money to pay off your sports-gambling debts or even a six-pack on game day. Forget about winning your office pool, bubba. If Bush gets re-elected, you won't have an office.
I'd say that, despite all those years of somewhat excessive use of recreational chemicals, Dr. Gonzo is seeing things pretty clearly right now.


Friday, March 19, 2004

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Big Turkee for John Kerry

Atrios has the numbers:
Wow. You all donated $19810 today, for a total of $75,513 since late Wed., Mar 3, when I first put the donation link up.
Is this a great country or what? My personal thanks to everyone who participated.

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Capabilities, Intentions, and History:
Senior administration officials and
the failure of intelligence on Iraq

In a very astute observation, Josh Marshall points out:
One of the things we hear again and again from the administration is that Saddam Hussein still had both the intention and the capability to build and possess weapons of mass destruction.
Isn't this a logical fallacy?
I mean, if you have the intention to build WMDs and the ability to build them, then you have WMDs. It's about as close to 2 + 2 = 4 as you get in human affairs.
Not that this is the biggest bit of ridiculousness coming out 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. But it's worth noting.
We can infer from the fact that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction that he lacked either the intention or the ability to have them. Something is missing from the equation. Maybe he had the intention to build them later. Maybe he was working to get back the ability. But he really couldn't have had both.
Determining capabilities and intentions is about 95 percent of what intelligence analysis is about. Having spent some years doing just that, I'd like to elaborate on this a bit.

At the tactical and operational levels, we talk about capabilities in terms of parts of a nation's military force. That is, we look at units, whether battalions, brigades, divisions, corps, or field armies (and their equivalents in the other services). A unit's capability is derived from factors such as its composition (how is it structured in terms of people, weapons and equipment?), strength (what does it actually have, as opposed to what it is supposed to have?), training (have the personnel received training in their individual specialties and has the unit trained together as a team?), logistics (supply, maintenance and transportation), and esprit de corps.

We infer intentions by studying a nation's doctrine. Sometimes this is published in the form of field manuals, sometimes from the professional writings of its military commanders, sometimes in the lessons it has learned from its own or other nation's previous conflicts.

The analyst will compare observed activities (troops massing near border, artillery moved forward, units receiving increased supplies of ammunition, establishment of new communications networks) with a nation's military doctrine. When activities match doctrine for a specific course of action, these are called indicators. When the analyst identifies several indicators for a specific course of action, this suggests an intention.

At the national or strategic level, the process is about the same, but the types of information are quite different. Capabilities at the national level are often a study in a nation's economics and sociology. For instance, for a given weapon system (doesn't matter if it is a battle tank, super-sonic bomber, submarine, or missile launcher) the analyst asks: Does this national have the technological base to develop such a weapon system? Does it have the raw materials and the industrial capacity to produce it? Must the nation buy it from another country? Does it have the economic base to be able to afford it? Does the nation have an education system that produces people who can operate and maintain the system, or will it depend on foreign advisors to do most of that. Is the nation capable of producing the myriad of spare parts (from tires to circuit boards) for the system, or is it dependent on foreign suppliers?

Intentions at the national level are often much more difficult to read. While an open society might publish its national policy on its use of nuclear weapons, for instance, this is certainly the exception rather than the rule. The process becomes extremely tricky in closed societies such as North Korea, where analysts are left to glean changes in the political power structure by the order in which names appear on the guest lists of annual state functions.

Issues of cultural pride, regional jealousies, national character, and tribal affiliations often help script the intentions of third world leaders. Regional specialists spend entire careers delving into such arcane matters, trying to read the tea leaves of official and unofficial statements, of various meetings with foreign officials, of personnel changes in government or industry, hoping for some clue as to what is actually going on inside a given leader's head.

Communication also plays an important role in determining intentions. What might be seen as a strong signal of intentions in one culture might fall on deaf ears if the intended recipient is of another culture. This was certainly the case in 1990, when both Iraq and the U.S. mis-read one another's signals about Kuwait (this assumes that the administration of George H. W. Bush was actually paying attention at the time -- something that is still subject to debate). That miscommunication resulted in the first Gulf War, a drastic change in the relationship between Iraq and the U.S., and to a large degree, precipitated the situation both countries find themselves in today.

I mention all this as a way of pointing out that the process of discerning capabilities and intentions is very complex, full of numerous variables, and subject to ambiguities. Nations often try to hide both their capabilities and their intentions, and develop elaborate techniques to disguise both.

To add to what Josh Marshall has said about Iraq's capabilities and intentions, senior administration officials keep repeating that we knew Iraq was a threat because it had used weapons of mass destruction in the past.

Now, while an analyst will use previous courses of action as a piece of information in determining both capabilities and intentions, it should never be used as the only piece of information in making those determinations. But as we know from this administration's tendency to cherry pick information to suit its own conclusions, this has been about the only hard evidence they've ever come up with. And being the only horse they can actually throw a saddle on, they're riding it into the ground.

At the risk of being accused of hating my country (20 years of military service to the contrary), I will point out that the United States has also used weapons of mass destruction in war. We did it against civilian population centers. We killed thousands of people. We thought it was entirely justified, given the situation. Since then we have developed the capability to do it to hundreds of cities.

Does that piece of information alone make us an imminent threat?


Thursday, March 18, 2004

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Culminating Point
We can't afford to get there

Following up on yesterday's post on Key Terrain, there is another term from the military that has significance for this year's presidential campaign. That term is culminating point.

We say that a force reaches its culminating point when attrition of troops, supplies and equipment leave it unable perform a mission suitable for a unit of its size, type, and composition. For example, a brigade that is at 50 percent strength might be able to perform a mission suitable for a battalion, but not one suitable for a brigade.

Units engaged in combat are dependent on the personnel and logistics systems to keep moving troops, beans, and bullets to the front in order to fill the gaps and continue operations. A political campaign depends on a flow of cash. And, given the cost of conducting a national campaign and the expense of running television ads over the course of the next 8 months, it can burn through that cash at an astounding rate.

So campaigns depend on continuous fund raising. That flow of funds is what keeps them reaching their culminating point before election day. And, given the capacity (and tendency) of the monied class to throw very fat checks at the Bush/Cheney campaign, John Kerry faces the daunting task of doing battle against the forces of darkness while continuously pushing his culminating point a little further into the future.

That's why knowledgeable bloggers like Atrios have declared every Thursday to be John Kerry Day, asking readers to give a few bucks on-line. Let's face it, we are not the party of the rich. But we are the party of the smart. And there are enough of us to make a difference.

So if you can find it in your heart, your brain, your conscience, or your wallet, go visit Atrios and give John Kerry turkee. I did it this morning. I like starting off my day doing something good for my country.


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

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Key Terrain
Where the 2004 Election
will be won and lost

In the military, the term key terrain is used to describe a piece of real estate that provides an advantage to the side that holds it or controls it. You hold it by getting there first and reinforcing with sufficient strength to either hold it against the enemy's attack, or better still, to convince the enemy that trying to take it would not be worth the cost.

Although not a perfect analogy, there are some similarities between the concept of key terrain and that of battleground states in this year's presidential election. Given how brutally close the 2000 election was, with Al Gore winning the popular vote, Nader spoiling, and the race literally being decided by a partisan vote in the Supreme Court, both sides are acutely aware of how critical the key terrain is going to be this time around.

As a recent WaPo article points out, Bush and Kerry have already conceded a majority of the states to one another. These are states where either one or the other holds such a strong position that they will not be contested.

Consequently, the battles will be fought over about 15 states. Bush won 8 or them in 2000. Gore won 7.

A fascinating little exercise, one that strategists on both sides are playing over and over this year, is electoral college "what if?" You can play along with them by going to the American Research Group's Electoral Vote Calculator. This allows you to see who wins based on how the electoral votes of each state are cast.

I've noted previously that if the Democrats can hold all the states they won in 2000, and also pick up Arizona, Kerry wins by 2 electoral votes. This is also true of the battlegound states of Missouri, Ohio, and of course Florida. Interestingly (or perhaps ominously), if Kerry wins all the states that Gore won, and can also pick up Louisiana, it creates an electoral college tie, and the follow-on horror show of the election being decided in the House of Representatives.

There are other interesting scenarios, as well. If Kerry can win any two of Nevada, New Hampshire, and West (by God) Virginia, and can still hold all the blue states from 2000, he wins. The republicans will work hard to re-take New Mexico, which Gore won by only 400 votes. If the Dems lose New Mexico, they have to win all three of NV, NH and WV.

Resetting to the 2000 results and starting over, if Bush can take New Mexico, neither Arizona nor Missouri would be enough by itself to give Kerry the win. But Ohio's 20 electoral votes would.

Ruy Teixeira offers an interesting take the Hispanic vote, which could play a crucial role in how the southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico vote this year.
The failure of the GOP's Hispanic strategy is underscored by a just-released Democracy Corps poll of Hispanic likely voters that includes oversamples in three southwestern states (NM, AZ and NV) and among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida.
In terms of the presidential contest, Kerry beats Bush among Hispanics by 23 points (57-34), which includes a whopping margin of 33 points in the southwest and 7 points among non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida.
While the single issue interest groups (especially the pro-gun and anti-choice elements) have had success in mobilizing their constituencies to vote Republican in past elections, they may be off-set this year. The same-sex marriage issue has energized the Log Cabin Republicans to the point where they might very well abandoned Bush in favor of Kerry. But nobody can say at this point what impact any of those interest groups will have on this election, especially in the battleground states which is really the only place it would matter.

In the past, the Democrats have had an edge in terms of organizing, mobilizing, and getting voters to the polls. Republicans have always raised more money. But as Sini at Jusiper notes:
I don't doubt that Democrats are mobilized. The Republicans, however, have spent nearly $40 million of Bush's reelection money not on ads but on local GOTV infrastructure. There has been a major shift in the last eight years. It used to be that you added two or three points to Democratic poll numbers because of their strength "on the ground." It may be that the opposite is true now.
So it's going to come down to two things: influencing public opinion in the battleground states and getting out the vote on election day. Both of them cost money. Lots of money.

Like Atrios, I don't especially like doing a lot of on-line solicitation. And while you can do your part by talking openly with your friends, family and colleagues about what a corrupt, deceitful, miserable failure the Bush administration has been and how important it is to vote them out of office in November, winning the election will also require raising some money. So I'm encouraging Rain Storm readers to donate their spare change to the Democratic National Committee. Do it for America. We deserve so much better than we've got.


Monday, March 15, 2004

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Deja Vu All Over Again
Those who don't learn the lessons of history...

Marx quotes Hegal: All great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice.

Marx adds: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

John B. Howard at For What It's Worth shares some facinating parallels between our current misadventure and that of Rome in the Third Punic War:
Pinpointing the causes of any war is notoriously difficult. But often one can find that at least part of the impetus involves a touch of the irrational--inexplicable human urges, personal obsessions, private hatreds. These undercurrents can lead politicians to exaggerate threat to justify a preemptive attack.
The Third Punic War (149-146 BC) is a case in point. Adrian Goldsworthy's The Punic Wars describes the possible causes for that war between Rome and Carthage in terms oddly resonant with the politics of war circa 2002-03. A summary of Goldsworthy's account:
By 150 BC, Rome had firmly established itself as the unrivaled power in the western Mediterranean; there could be no real question of Carthage mounting a challenge to Roman military and political dominance. Nevertheless, a number of influential Romans apparently regretted that Rome had not dealt even more harshly with Carthage at the end of the Second Punic war. And now Carthage was becoming wealthy, again. Returning from visits to Carthage, Roman senators began speaking of the growth and prosperity they had seen there. Cato—a fierce antagonist of Carthage during the Second Punic War now in his old age--began to rail incessantly against the renewed threat from Rome's traditional enemy. During one Senate debate, Cato was said to have dropped a huge fig from his toga, claiming that it had been grown in the monstrously fecund orchards of Carthage. He, together with other conservative senators, were also expressing concerns about the rising Greek influences then corrupting Rome’s younger generations. They worried about the general decline of morals and republican virtues, the loss of martial vigor in the society. Perhaps due to this sense of spreading social decay, Cato became increasingly obsessed with the growing strength of Carthage and the need to act preemptively to stop a ripening threat. To rally support for his pro-war policy, Cato is reported to have exaggerated the speed with which the nonexistent Punic fleet might cross the Mediterranean to attack Rome itself. In the end, he took to concluding every speech he made in the Senate with the phrase Delenda est Carthago— “Carthage must be destroyed.” For reasons still not clearly understood, Rome allowed itself to be persuaded. An invasion force was patiently assembled, a suitable pretext was found, and Carthage was, at last, annihilated.
Then again, you wouldn't expect a president who doesn't read to notice the similarities, now would you?

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White House Humor
Some Mondays you just need a good chuckle

It was reported today that at a White House staff meeting last week there was a heated discussion about the health of Vice President Cheney and his angina problem.

President Bush interrupted and stated emphatically that men do not have anginas.

The president was especially perplexed when a staffer said that Cheney has acute angina.

Blogger note: We assume that the above is satire. But let's face it -- with this administration it's so hard to tell.

Thanks to CC.

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The Sound of Tumbling Dominos
Elections in Spain initiate Regime Change
Among the Coalition of the Willing

The elections in Spain, which came on the heals of a massive terrorist attack, marked the first political casualty in what Billmon astutely refers to as "the Coalition of the Progessively Less Willing."

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:
In a stunning backlash, the ruling Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar was swept out of office Sunday, as voters turned on a government they believe provoked last week's bombings with its support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
It was the first time a government that backed the Iraq war has been voted out. The vast majority of Spaniards opposed the war and victorious Socialist party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had pledged to bring home the 1,300 troops Spain has stationed in Iraq when their tour of duty ends in July.
Josh Marshall points out:
Whatever else they thought of the Iraq war, very few people in Europe saw any real logic to the (terror war = Iraq war) equation. Some supported the Iraq war for other reasons. But few saw the two connected as the Bush administration tried to present them. And not a few saw the Iraq adventure as positively counterproductive to stemming the tide of Isalmist terror.
The irony in all this is that the American neocons, who envisioned creating a domino effect in the Middle East through regime change in Iraq, are not only seeing that fantasy slipping away, they are seeing it coming back at them as the dominos began to fall in the opposite direction.

Voters in Spain have given a clear rebuke to their country's participation in Mr. Bush's war, as well as all the lies and deceit with which it was sold to them. Tony Blair's government in the UK has been on the ropes for months. It's only a matter of time before the Brits throw him out.

The last domino to fall will be the administration of George W. Bush, who won't be able to survive the judgment of history, or the wrath of the American voters come November. Chickens coming home to roost.


Sunday, March 14, 2004

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Honorable Mention
on a very slow day

This Sunday has had the lowest level of readership in weeks. Instead of taking it personally, I'm going to assume it has something to do with spring break. Party On! y'all.

Since things are so slow, let me take this opportunity to give appropriate credit to some other bloggers who have been kind enough to mention Rain Storm on their sites:

Natalie Davis' ALL FACTS & OPINIONS: She's all over the same-sex marriage question as well as other important human rights issues.

StoutDemBlog: You gotta love a Democrat blogger from Dallas.

Rodger A. Payne's Weblog: Rodger is one of the smarter guys in the blogosphere. He does a great job covering international relations and throws in a little baseball, too.

Check 'em out. We think you'll find something you'll like.

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Pass the Pipe, Condi...
What are these people smoking?

The other day I was at a stop light that feeds onto a freeway on-ramp. I could see that the guy in the car in front of me was on his cell phone. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I noticed that the woman in the car behind me was on her cell phone, too.

I was suddenly filled with fear. I would rather be on a freeway surrounded by dudes on ludes than bracketed by drivers who are talking on their cell phones.

And speaking of dudes on ludes, truth-challenged administration officials were on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, telling us how much safer we are because we invaded Iraq. Rummy was saying that Saddam posed a much bigger threat to the U.S. than North Korea.
"I believe to this day that it was an urgent threat," White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "This could not go on and we are safer as a result because today Iraq is no longer going to be a state of weapons of mass destruction concern."
What have these people been smoking? It's obviously better than anything I got as a kid.

Rain Storm can think of two possible drug-free explanations for such statements: "They are either liars or they are incredibly stupid."

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Live from the Democratic National Convention...
Help send the Rain Storm to Boston

Through a series of events we still don't completely understand, Rain Storm has been invited to the Democratic National Convention, July 26 - 29 in Boston. To quote Bob Dylan: Blame it on a simple twist of fate.

We'll be there, sharing with you the exciting details of the Building of the Party Platform, the Race for the Vice-Presidency, and thousands of adrenaline-crazed Democrats marching around in funny hats. We'll even include the sordid details from the wild convention parties, if we can find any. You won't want to miss a single report.

To be honest, we're a little overwhelmed by the whole thing, especially the cost of a hotel room in Boston that week. You can help by making a small donation to the Send the Rain Storm to Boston Fund. We're not asking for large donations (note -- we're not turning them down, either). But as Father Guido Sarducci said nearly 25 years ago:
Thirty-five cents, thirty-five cents, thirty-five cents -- it adds up.
Feel free to adjust for inflation. As always, we are grateful for your support. Please use the Pay Pal link in the left-hand column if you'd like to contribute.


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