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Tuesday, June 15, 2004  

Blogger of the day: David Anderson

David Anderson, at In Search of Utopia, has quite a few entries that may interest you up presently. Like this weblog, Anderson's blog is general assignment. He writes about whatever is on his mind. That can be his business, domestic politics, high tech news, the war in Iraq or anything else. So, be prepared for an eclectic mixture of opinion and reportage.

Time does blogging

Anderson brought my attention to an article about blogging in the current issue of Time. Balanced and long, the piece reminds us when blogs began to matter.

Most of America couldn't have cared less. Until December 2002, that is, when bloggers staged a dramatic show of force. The occasion was Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, during which Trent Lott made what sounded like a nostalgic reference to Thurmond's past segregationist leanings. The mainstream press largely glossed over the incident, but when regular journalists bury the lead, bloggers dig it right back up. "That story got ignored for three, four, five days by big papers and the TV networks while blogs kept it alive," says Joshua Micah Marshall, creator of talkingpointsmemo.com, one of a handful of blogs that stuck with the Lott story.

Mainstream America wasn't listening, but Washington insiders and media honchos read blogs. Three days after the party, the story was on Meet the Press. Four days afterward, Lott made an official apology. After two weeks, Lott was out as Senate majority leader, and blogs had drawn their first blood. Web journalists like Matt Drudge (drudgereport.com) had already demonstrated a certain crude effectiveness — witness l'affaire Lewinsky — but this was something different: bloggers were offering reasoned, forceful arguments that carried weight with the powers that be.

The full five-page article is worth reading,

Feds probe Islamic law confab

Anderson is also interested in how easy it is to get in trouble with the law these days. Turns out that a conference on Islamic law was seen as suspicious by secret agent men. (Who just might give you a number and take away a your name.) He read about it in Newsweek.

Last February, two Army counterintelligence agents showed up at the University of Texas law school and demanded to see the roster from a conference on Islamic law held a few days earlier. Their reason: they were trying to track down students who the agents claimed had been asking "suspicious" questions. "I felt like I was in 'Law & Order'," said one student after being grilled by one of the agents. The incident provoked a brief campus uproar, and the Army later admitted the agents had exceeded their authority. But if the Pentagon has its way, the Army may not have to make such amends in the future. Without any public hearing or debate, Newsweekhas learned, Defense officials recently slipped a provision into a bill before Congress that could vastly expand the Pentagon's ability to gather intelligence inside the United States, including recruiting citizens as informants."

Living in the Pacific Northwest, which is often the locus of anti-terrorism activity, has made me certain that the investigations and arrests arereal. First there were the imams and mosques allegedly linked to funding terrorism in Seattle and Portland. Then, the Portland Seven, who eventually pleaded guilty to charges they traveled to China in an effort to reach Afghanistan, where they holded to join al Qaida. A supposed terrorist training camp is said to be located in Oregon. More recently, Brandon Mayfield, a Portland lawyer, was in custody for two weeks. It was falsely claimed that his fingerprint was found at the site of the terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people in of a train ins Spain. He says he was targeted because he is a Muslim. So, the reality of the times we live may be more vivid to us here. If I still lived in Des Moines, Iowa, these events probably would not resonate with me as much.

Anderson is wary, too, all the way from Costa Rico.

It gets more and more scary folks. What I cant figure out is how some of the more intelligent conservatives I talk with, cant figure this out. . . We have the Justice Department giving the President Legal Advice on how he can authorize torture. We have CIA agents being outed for revenge. We have FREE SPEECH zones, and people being locked up without access to legal representation. We have civil rights being selectively ignored... The Republicans got upset not long ago about a MoveOn.org add comparing Bush with the Nazis. But it may not take a Right Wing organization to draw parallels if these trends continue.

Viable cases have been made against some terrorism suspects. But, that doesn't make the abuses of investigative powers by federal agents more acceptable.

Ugly American, send me money

Blog readers aren't Anderson's only stubborn correspondents. He recently heard twice from an email scam. Not Nigerian, but Liberian.

Date: Sunday, June 13, 2004 6:48 AM
From: JOHNSON TAYLOR <johnsontaylor54001@yahoo.co.uk>
Reply-To: johnsontaylor540@yahoo.co.uk
To: <dsanderson11@mac.com>

Dear Sir/madam,

This request may seem strange, but if I may crave your indulgence and hope that you view this proposal very seriously. My name is MR..JOHNSON TAYLOR, the junior brother to Mr. Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. Due to the current situations in our country (Liberia) we where forced to leave the country for Nigeria where we are currently on political asylum. My brother Ex. President Taylor on getting to Nigeria.

. . .Based on these developments, the various foreign Banks Account of my Uncle is already being investigated and that of Switzerland has already been frozen.

In view of this very unpleasant development the sum of £16.5Million pounds has been Secretly moved to a private security vault for safekeeping.

My Uncle Mr Charles Taylor is Presently in Nigeria for asylum, he has confided in me With this task of seeking a very reliable and honest person that Will receive this Fund into his/her account for the future Survival of him and his family since he cannot presently deposit Or transfer the fund on his name or that of his family members Name due to the present situation in our country. He may likely Face war crime charges as declared by the United Nations in Respect of his alleged involvement in civil war in Sierra-Leone

It is in light of this present situation that made me to come over to Europe on a different identity in search of a reliable, trustworthy individual who would be able to assist us by providing us with an account (A Fresh account just for the purpose of this transaction), so as to enable us transfer the sum of (£16.5million pounds) into that said account. You would also be required to buy properties, stocks I multinational companies and also engage in other safe non-speculative investments. In appreciation of your assistance, we have worked out the sharing ratio for mutually beneficial transaction as follows. 75% for us would further be best wishes from our corporation on your professed endeavors.

I said a Liberian scam, but who really knows? The culprit could be anyone anywhere.

Something I notice about these emails when I get them is that there is an automatic assumption that I will be sympathetic to the plight of a despot, usually one of the Right Wing sort. Is that because people in Second and Third World countries think all Americans have conservative or reactionary political values? I don't recall encountering such a perspective when I was in Africa years ago, but maybe I was talking to the wrong people. I've never gotten an email soliciting funds from someone claiming to be the second cousin twice removed of Allende or the granddaugher of Lumumba. I wonder why.

These entries are just a sample of material available at In Search of Utopia. Visit David Anderson.

9:15 PM