Saturday, December 03, 2005

The blogging of Steve Clemons

One of my favourite bloggers is Steve Clemons, author of The Washington Note -- one of the must-reads in the blogosphere, given his impressive background, investigative reporting, and acute analysis of the leading issues of the day (his bio is here). Here are some of his recent posts:

From time to time, I'll do a post on one of my favourite bloggers/blogs, highlighting some recommended posts. This is a good place to start. Check out the links above and go back for regular reads.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Burma and Bolton

Over the summer -- like Steve Clemons, Jeremy Dibbell, and many other bloggers out there -- I wrote a great deal about John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. (and his subsequent recess appointment when said nomination stalled in the Senate).

I vehemently opposed Bolton's nomination (see here) and I objected to his recess appointment (see here). (Links to all my Bolton-related posts may be found here.)

But when his appointment was announced, I stepped back, took a deep breath, and said that we should "all pay close attention to how Bolton conducts himself in his new job".

Well, let's give him some credit for this significant (and promising) development:

The US has persuaded the UN Security Council to hear a briefing on whether Burma is destabilising the region.

The hearing -- the first of its kind -- is expected in the next two weeks. John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, said the step was "significant"...

Mr Bolton wrote to the Security Council on Tuesday to request a briefing on Burma, or Myanmar, citing "the deteriorating situation" there.

He pointed to Burma as a source of regional instability because of its poor record on drug trafficking, widespread human rights abuses and stalled transition to democracy...

"We think it [Burma] does amount to a threat to international peace and security," he said.

He said Burma's "internally repressive policies" had contributed to large flows of refugees out of the country.

We don't much think about Burma here in North America, and likely not in most other places around the world, but Bolton's absolutely right about this. The situation in Burma, from everything I've read recently, is a horrible one, and the U.N. would do well to do something about it. There may be a number of different options short of actual intervention, and those options ought to be addressed, but the first step, as always, is to acknowledge the problem, raise awareness, and begin the conversation.

The U.S., of course, is occupied elsewhere, rightly or wrongly, but the U.N., with America's leadership, is in a position to halt the deterioration before Burma turns into yet another insoluble problem that lies beyond the U.N.'s reach.

Whatever his flaws as a diplomat, and whether or not he was the right man for the job, John Bolton has done well.

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No, Maureen Dowd is not necessary

Skippy (of Bush Kangaroo fame) has a good post on the necessity (or, rather, non-necessity) of Maureen Dowd. Like Skippy, I wonder why she's an op-ed columnist at arguably the most important newspaper in the world. I've previously written about her, unfavourably, here and here. (I've given her a chance time and time again, but, aside from a few moments of witty perspicacity, I just don't find much to like anymore.)

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Ten U.S. Marines killed in Iraq

Another attack in Iraq, "one of the deadliest in recent months". CNN reports here.

The Left Coaster: "On the same day that the New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon admits they are fighting a decentralized nightmare now of nearly 100 insurgent groups in Iraq who are able to operate independently of each other and who weren’t there before we toppled Hussein, the Pentagon also releases the news that ten Marines were killed in just one incident yesterday from a roadside bomb near Fallujah, with at least another 11 injured."

Yet Bush didn't even mention the incident at an economic "discussion" in the Rose Garden this morning. He hyped some relatively good economic news ("relatively" because so much of it has been bad during his presidency -- anything remotely positive is good) but neglected the truly awful news coming out of his mismanaged war (news that doesn't fit with the latest spin).

The Carpetbagger Report has more.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.

About 40 million people around the world are infected with HIV. Half of them live in Africa.

For more information, a good resource is the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

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South Africa approves same-sex marriage

Over the summer, Canada became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage -- a great milestone in Canadian history. Now South Africa has (almost) done the same:

South Africa's highest court ruled on Thursday that gays and lesbians have a right to marry, and it gave the national parliament one year to change the words "husband" and "wife" to "spouse" in its marital laws.

Under the ruling, which was greeted by jubilation by gays and lesbians and frustration by some church leaders, South Africa will become the first African nation and the fifth in the world to extend full marital rights to same-sex couples.

Compare that to the anti-gay movement in the United States.

Andrew Sullivan responds: "Who would have guessed twenty years ago that the land of apartheid would now be ahead of the United States in its support for civil rights and equal protection of laws?"

The world is indeed a strange place. Well done, South Africa.

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Spinning Iraq: The Orwellian scope of Bush's self-justifying self-delusion

There's been a lot of coverage in the blogosphere of Bush's speech yesterday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and on the unclassified White House document called the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" (which sounds vaguely Orwellian, doesn't it?) -- thanks to Steve Clemons of The Washington Note for the pdf of the document. Give it a read, but watch your blood pressure. If you have any idea what's really going on in Iraq, it'll arouse your ire and disgust at how this president has botched the entire war.

For MSM coverage of the speech, see the Post.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid: "After nearly 1,000 days of war in Iraq, our troops, their families and the American people deserve more than just a Bush-Cheney public relations campaign. They deserve a clear strategy with military, economic and political measures to be met in order to successfully complete our mission."

They may deserve it, but Bush didn't give it to them. And they should be outraged.


I may yet do a thorough round-up of reaction to the speech/document once the dust settles, but here are some of the best responses from some of the best bloggers:

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster: "This was just another 'Karl, get them off my back' maneuver by Bush and Rove, masquerading as a serious policy announcement. To be fair to Bush, there was no chance that he was going to break new, noticeable ground today, since changing course isn’t really in his DNA. But the real question will be to see how this thumb-in-the-eye to McCain, Warner, and Lindsey Graham will go down in Congress."

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report: "[I]f you're looking for an indication that the war policy is back on track, you're likely to be disappointed. The 45-minute, 5,000-word speech can be summarized in one simple sentence: Bush thinks his Iraq policy is working. You could almost hear him prodding us along — we're on the right track, really, trust me, it's true, take my word for it, disregard everything else you've heard... In this sense, today's speech wasn't so much a new approach as it was new packaging. Bush said in slightly different words what he's said repeatedly for nearly three years — 'I know what I'm doing.'"

Does that fill you with confidence? Didn't think so.

Matthew Yglesias at TAPPED addresses a gaping hole in the NSVI: "Now the way a normal planning document would work is that after having identified some challenges, you would explain the plan for meeting them. But the 'detailed' section on the political track just ends right there and the discussion moves on to other things. Alleged signs of progress are noted in great detail, which is useful for propaganda purposes, but doesn't constitute a strategy. Then some problems are flagged. And then... nothing. Right where the strategy is called for, it goes blank."

That's because there's nothing there. No strategy. None whatsoever.

Maha of The Mahablog live-blogged Bush's speech. Good stuff.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend calls the speech "a pageant of delusion" and the NSVI "a mind-numbing affair of spin and blather" -- the best descriptions I've heard or read so far.

Think Progress deconstructs the NSVI: "After two-and-a-half years and 2,110 U.S. troop fatalities, the Bush administration released what it calls a 'National Strategy for Victory in Iraq' (NSVI). The problem is, it's not a new strategy for success in Iraq; it's a public relations document. The strategy describes what has transpired in Iraq to date as a resounding success and stubbornly refuses to establish any standards for accountability. It dismisses serious problems such as the dramatic increase in bombings as 'metrics that the terrorists and insurgents want the world to use.' Americans understand it's time for a new course in Iraq. Unfortunately, this document is little more than an extended justification for a President 'determined to stay his course.'"

See also Bradford Plumer, Body and Soul, The Heretik, and The Glittering Eye.

For more coverage, see Memeorandum.


Okay, that's a pretty good round-up for now. Keep checking back for updates.

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Bill O'Reilly, illiberal paranoid conspiracy theorist

Media Matters is reporting that folk-leader Bill O'Reilly has taken to attacking what he calls "a very secret plan" by secular progressives to "diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A."

Now, this is misguided on so many levels, but let me mention three.

1) There is no such thing as Christian philosophy. Theology yes, philosophy no. This may be a somewhat controversial assertion on my part, but religion is very much the antithesis of philosophy properly understood (that is, as Socrates understood it). Just as George W. Bush was wrong to call Jesus a political philosopher, so is O'Reilly wrong to speak of Christian philosophy.

2) America is still a deeply Christian nation. Even George Soros's billions won't change that. If anything, there's a not-so-secret plan by conservative fundamentalists to enhance Christian theology in the U.S.A.

3) American secularism is rooted in Lockean political philosophy, in the modern project initiated by Machiavelli and liberalized by Hobbes and Locke. The modern project sought to liberate humanity from the shackles of superstition and the domination of politics by religion. Lockean political philosophy is the philosophy of American constitutionalism, the philosophy that deeply animated the Founders as they sought to forge a new nation in a new world. To be sure, there are theological strains guiding much of American life, but American is a fundamentally liberal nation.

You got it wrong, Bill.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blair misreads Bush on climate change

Once again, a somewhat gullible Tony Blair has learned that the U.S. isn't serious about tackling the problem of climate change:

The US has dismissed a suggestion from UK Prime Minister Tony Blair that it may be prepared to sign up to binding targets to tackle climate change.

Speaking at UN climate talks in Canada, the US chief negotiator said his nation would not enter talks about fixed curbs on emissions of greenhouse gases.

Mr Blair told UK business leaders on Tuesday that he believed all major nations would support new targets.

The Kyoto Protocol, the current global climate agreement, will expire in 2012.

I know, this isn't exactly news. The Bush Administration won't do anything that could challenge the business interests that support it, and, beyond that, it's not even clear that high-ranking officials, including the president himself, even believe that climate change is a reality (let alone a real problem that ought to be dealt with in a serious, concerted way).

Bush touts his own meager coalition of the willing in Iraq (hello, Mongolia!), but he won't do anything to support the truly international and almost universal coalition of the willing on climate change.

Hasn't Blair learned his lesson? Bush is all take and no give, all faith and no reason. Blair at least spends much of his time living and governing in reality. Bush closed himself off from reality long ago.

(I previously wrote about Bush, Blair, and climate change here.)

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Cunningham, Canada, and confidence

Stephen Colbert was absolutely hilarious last night -- the best I've seen of his new show so far. Crooks and Liars has the must-see video.

(For more video, go to the Report's main site.)

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Investigating T.O.: What will Arlen do? is reporting that "Sen. Arlen Specter on Tuesday backed off a threat to have a Senate subcommittee investigate whether the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles violated antitrust laws in their handling of Terrell Owens."

But what was the point to start with? Only the day before, Senator Specter had "said it was 'vindictive and inappropriate' for the league and the Eagles to prohibit the All-Pro wide receiver from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him". In other words, he was prepared to waste public money and the time and energy of public officials investigating a matter involving a collective agreement between owners and the union -- even after arbitrator Richard Bloch had already determined that "the team's actions were supported by the labor agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association".

I'm neither anti-government nor anti-politician, but surely the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has better things to do than to meddle with the NFL. After all, as Steve Benen put it: "Specter's committee hasn't managed to lift a finger to look into a White House criminal scandal that's already led to one high-profile indictment, among other matters that might spark a hearing or two. In other words, by Specter's standard, an undercover CIA agent outed by the White House can't get attention from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but a controversial football player can."

My own take on T.O.: He's the one who's been "vindictive" and "inappropriate". The Eagles were right to do what they did.

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Divide and conquer: Bush's new strategy to win in Iraq and at home

From the AP:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday defended her vote to authorize war in Iraq amid growing unease among liberal Democrats who could determine the potential 2008 presidential candidate's future.

"I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war," the New York senator said in a lengthy letter to thousands of people who have written her about the war.

At the same time, she said the United States must "finish what it started" in Iraq.

I tend to agree. Bush must take responsibility for what he's done, for the mess he's gotten America into. He needs to be held accountable both for the "deliberate deceit" of the pre-war period and for the gross mismanagement of the war itself (see here). But he also needs to do the right thing, that is, to finish the job properly, that is, to ensure that Iraq is secure and stable and on a course to viable, long-term self-governance.

In theory, I'm with Hillary.

Whether or not America should be in Iraq, America is in Iraq, and that's the truth that matters most.

But here's the big problem: Is Bush even capable of finishing what he started? He may still be committed to the lofty goal of a stable, democratic Iraq and the even loftier goal of a democratic revolution in the Middle East, but it seems to me that he's torn between his stubborn pursuit of those goals on the one hand and domestic political reality on the other, namely, his own sagging approval ratings and next year's midterm elections.

And he's trying to sail between that Scylla and that Charybdis even as his own mismanagement of the war and the revelation of the untruths that sustained it hindered his stubborn pursuit of those goals and turned domestic political reality against him. All of which leaves him with no one to blame but himself. He's blown it over here and over there, and that's some accomplishment.

So what will he do? Just what he's been doing lately and what he's generally done throughout his presidency. Attack his opponents for partisan political purposes while appropriating their ideas for partisan political purposes.

And spin, spin, spin. Change the narrative, the framing of the story. Withdraw large numbers of troops to take the issue away from Democrats and carry on the war by other means. That is, submit to domestic political reality and pursue those lofty goals in Iraq.

That's the strategy. For now. (It may change.) Again, Bush has been forced into this risky maneuver by his own hand. But he can only reverse the trend over here and over there by maneuvering delicately between a war that isn't going well on one side and a withdrawal of U.S. forces that would send Iraq into civil war and anarchy on the other.

Democrats -- and the still-hawkish Hillary in particular -- need to see that this is what's going on, that this is Bush's attempt to salvage his presidency (and the Republican Party over here and Iraqi democracy over there). The danger is that Democrats are splitting (or have split) into two camps, the hawks (finish the job) and the doves (withdraw now). But those two camps reflect the Scylla and the Charybdis, the two extremes, the thesis and the antithesis. Bush will try to sail through while blasting away at the Democrats on both extremes, hoping that he wins approval over here secures his legacy over there.

He may not succeed. After all, the "new" war in Iraq may not go well and Iraq may yet descend into civil war and anarchy. But it's more likely that he'll succeed politically and that Iraq will become a win-win for him. Here's what I wrote in a recent post: "If Iraq succeeds, with success defined broadly as stable self-governance that is more or less democratic, Bush can take all the credit (the war was worth it, see?). If Iraq fails, with failure defined as civil war and/or anarchy, Bush can blame the Iraqis themselves (the war was worth it, but those good-for-nothing Iraqis let us down, see?). And if Iraq ends up somewhere between success and failure, which seems likely, Bush can spin whatever story makes him look good and helps him stick it to his opponents."

Whatever his messianic idealism, Bush is trying to set the Democrats up for inevitable failure by sailing right through the yawning chasm of their disparate and at times warring elements. It's not enough to say that the troops must be withdrawn or that the job must be finished. Democrats must set the tone, define the terms, and unite in response to the next phase of Bush's campaign over here. But first they must understand what he's trying to do, what the new strategy is. A failure do that could result in this incredibly unpopular president rising like a phoenix from the ashes of his own self-made demise.

Is that horrible possibility enough for Democrats to get their act together?

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Canada set for January election

Here's an update to yesterday's post (check it out for some excellent reader comments). Again from The Globe and Mail:

What's already looking like a long and nasty winter election campaign slid downhill quickly Tuesday with Liberal Leader Paul Martin comparing Stephen Harper to a sinister and ambitious Scrooge and the Conservative Leader describing Mr. Martin as the head of a criminal government that steals tax dollars.

Day One of the long campaign -- the election date was set for Monday Jan. 23 -- was marked by vitriol and sarcasm.

And Christmas is an issue:

So, what do you think of your Christmas present from Stephen Harper?" he asked Liberals at his first campaign rally last night in a restaurant in the Ottawa Byward Market district.

"Just think about it. What family doesn't look forward to gathering together on Christmas Eve, sipping on some hot chocolate and sharing in the joy of watching Stephen Harper as Scrooge on TV?"

Mr. Harper gave as good as he got, saying in his first campaign address Canadians now have a chance to get rid of a corrupt government that has been "stealing your money."

And here's how it all began:

The day began with a formality. Mr. Martin advised Governor-General Michäelle Jean that his 17-month-old minority government had lost a confidence vote in the Commons Monday night. She was ready, agreeing to dissolve the 38th Parliament and issue electoral writs.

The formalities complete, Mr. Martin emerged from Rideau Hall and immediately went on the offensive, blaming the three opposition parties for an election he claims Canadians don't want at this time.

Well, maybe, maybe not. Canadians surely aren't happy with an election campaign that runs through the holidays, but, then, I'm not sure they're happy with Liberal corruption, a vision-less and direction-less government that tries to buy votes with billions and billions of dollars in pre-election spending, and the stink of stagnation in Ottawa.

This election, I believe is necessary, if only to clear the air and for the country to move beyond a largely lame-duck Parliament where the Conservative Party and the Bloc Quebecois were angling to topple the Liberals even as the New Democratic Party was holding them hostage with a guarantee of confidence-saving votes in return for ramped up spending on social programs. How was that arrangement to last? How long were the Conservatives, out of power since 1993, to hold off?

But if this election is necessary, and if, for our parliamentary system, it's really no big deal, the election campaign itself is going to be nasty, brutish, and agonizingly long. This, after all, was just Day 1. We'll have a few weeks of this, then a brief pause over the holidays, then an acceleration of hostility into the election itself.

And the tone's already been set. There are series issues to be debated, but the Liberals, desperate to cling to power (a loss would mean the end of Martin's political career and unleash civil war upon the party), will try to terrify voters with the ominous specter of a far-right and un-Canadian alternative (it's not, but the Liberals like to think they're the truly Canadian party -- they are, but only of the Canada of their own imagining), and the Conservatives will try to hammer home the corruption tag on an admittedly corrupt governing party. Meanwhile, the NDP will promote their elitist socialism in the hopes of picking up a few seats and holding the Liberals hostage yet again (but with more ammunition), and the Bloc Quebecois will couch a separatist subtext in a constant barrage of criticism against Liberal corruption in Quebec, supplementing the Conservative critique even as it uses a federal election campaign to manipulate Quebec's long-standing sense of victimization, much of it self-inflicted, in the service of its anti-Canadian goals.

So much for the issues.

Who says things are boring up here in Canada?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sexism in the air... down under

From The New Zealand Herald (which makes its first appearance at The Reaction): "Air New Zealand and Qantas have banned men from sitting next to unaccompanied children on flights..."

Sexist political correctness way out of control or a sensible, precautionary policy? (Or is it perhaps that children are more comfortable around women?)

I'll go with the former: It's stupid, ridiculous, and insulting.

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Cheney's travelgate?

It looks like America's ethics-challenged vice president may have incurred illicit travel expenses at taxpayers' expense.


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Iraq's death squads

Yesterday, I reported on Ayad Allawi's assertion that in terms of abuse things are just as bad in Iraq now as they were under Saddam. Well, now there's more -- and it isn't pretty:

Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq's police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law, according to documents and scores of interviews.

The abuses raise the specter of organized retaliation to attacks by Sunni-led insurgents that have killed thousands of Shiites, who endured decades of subjugation under Saddam Hussein.

And they undermine the U.S. effort to stabilize the nation, and train and equip Iraq's security forces — the Bush administration's key prerequisites for the eventual withdrawal of American troops.

And all this while the U.S. is preparing to withdraw ground forces and to hand over security duties to the Iraqis themselves -- Iraqi forces that are likely unprepared to assume those responsibilities (even as the latest White House spin misleadingly and outrageously touts the Iraqi forces' competence).

(Make sure to read the whole L.A. Times article. I've just quoted the first few paragraphs here.)


See Political Animal, The Left Coaster, Body and Soul, and Taegan Goddard.

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Politics + Money = Corruption

That's a truism across time and space -- but has it gotten worse?

Jeffrey Birnbaum has this in the Post: "For several years now, corporations and other wealthy interests have made ever-larger campaign contributions, gifts and sponsored trips part of the culture of Capitol Hill. But now, with fresh guilty pleas by a lawmaker and a public relations executive, federal prosecutors -- and perhaps average voters -- may be concluding that the commingling of money and politics has gone too far."

True enough. Quite a few Congressmen (mostly Republicans) have been indicted or are under investigation for so-called "improper conduct".

Here's Kevin Drum: "[T]he evidence indicates that Birnbaum is basically right: most voters don't pay much attention to politics and don't understand that it's mostly Republicans who have been gaming the system in unprecedented numbers in recent years."

Democrats have been guilty of "improper conduct" in the past, of course, but, whether the public knows it or not, it's the other party that's making a mockery of political ethics and ensuring that the old truism lives on.


See MyDD, The Next Hurrah, The Huffington Post, and Bull Moose.

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Canada's government falls on no-confidence vote

From The Globe and Mail:

The short-lived 38th Parliament met its demise on Monday night, setting the stage for the longest election campaigns in two decades, as the Liberal government was defeated in a no-confidence vote at the hands of all three opposition parties and the country was launched into official election mode.

The Liberals lost the vote in the House of Commons 133 to 171, beginning a series of events that will propel voters toward the ballot boxes, likely on Jan. 23.

Prime Minister Paul Martin will officially call a federal election on Tuesday.

Martin was leading a minority government -- that is, the Liberal Party had only a minority of seats in the House of Commons, and it was really only a matter of time before the opposition parties, led by the Conservatives, would force a new election by voting down the government in a no-confidence vote. The Liberals have been in power since 1993, after all, and they've been tarnished by allegations of corruption (see my post on the Gomery Report here).

And now? A January election and a campaign running through Christmas:

Mr. Martin said he will visit Governor-General Michäelle Jean at 9:30 EST on Tuesday morning and ask her to dissolve the government, triggering an immediate election campaign likely to run 56 days with a likely hiatus over Christmas. That would mean one of the longest campaigns in recent history. This would also be only other election to run over the Christmas holidays besides the campaign in 1979-80 when former Conservative leader Joe Clark's party was toppled in a budget vote.

And what do the polls say? The Liberals are ahead, but not by much:

[The] Liberals enter an election campaign six percentage points ahead of the Conservatives, but losing ground in Ontario and facing an increased desire for a change of government, a new poll shows...

The poll, conducted between Thursday and Sunday, found that 35 per cent of Canadians would vote Liberal if an election were held today, compared with 29 per cent for the Conservatives and 17 per cent for the [left-wing] NDP...

The numbers have not changed much since the June 28, 2004, election, which produced a Liberal minority government.

Don't count out the Liberals, however. They run an incredible electoral machine, and they may very well surprise on the upside, securing a majority government or at least sustaining their current standing in the House of Commons. But the Conservatives, based largely in the West, are making inroads in Ontario, Canada's heartland and the key to winning a national election. Martin has spent the past couple of weeks handing out billions of dollars in pre-election spending, but he's not a great campaigner and there just isn't much pro-Liberal passion in the electorate. Indeed, it seems rather that the electorate is exhausted after so many years of Liberal rule.

It may be far too early for a prediction, but I think we're headed for yet another Liberal minority government.

For better and for worse.

Note: Keep checking back for regular updates through the campaign period. I may even try to bring in a few guest bloggers to add their expertise.

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Blair's burden

While President Bush spins himself silly rewriting history and otherwise avoiding responsibility for his own messes, Prime Minister Blair, who weekly stands before a raucous House of Commons during Question Period, is about to face perhaps his biggest political challenge -- and he may not survive:

Leading opposition figures from the Conservative, Liberal-Democratic, Scottish National and Plaid Cymru (Welsh) parties have banded together to back the cross-party motion titled "Conduct of Government policy in relation to the war against Iraq" to demand that the case for an inquiry be debated in the House of Commons. They seem assured of the 200 signatures required to get such a debate -- and then the loyalty of Blair's dismayed and disillusioned Labor members of Parliament will be sorely tested...

Labor Party rebels have already inflicted one unprecedented defeat on Blair in this parliamentary session, and on the issue of Iraq, he commands little confidence. One leading Labor rebel, Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham, has already signed on to the motion.

It reads: "This House believes there should be a select committee of seven Members, being Members of Her Majesty's Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto in the period leading up to military action in that country in March, 2003 and in its aftermath."

There have been earlier inquiries, critical of Blair but not lethal, into the use of intelligence and other issues, but this would be the first to focus on the way the decision to go to war was reached...

I admire Tony Blair. I really do. I generally approve of his liberal interventionist approach to foreign policy. But he's in trouble here.

In a parliamentary system like the one at Westminster, the prime minister must ultimately defend himself and his policies (or, rather, those of his government) before parliament. And if parliament loses confidence, the government is brought down (as it was on Monday here in Canada). In a presidential system like the one in the U.S., the president is accountable to... whom? The voters? Yes, but only once. Congress? Well, there are checks, to be sure, what what happens when the president's party holds the majority in Congress? Exactly. Nothing. The Supreme Court? More checks, yes, but what if a majority of justices support broad executive powers? Or what if there's no clear case to be brought before the justices? The media? Yeah, sure.

So we're left with President Bush's lies and deception and revisionism. And where Blair's toughest challenger is the House of Commons itself, Bush's toughest challenger appears to be... Helen Thomas.

Wouldn't it be great if Bush and Blair could swap jobs for a couple of weeks?

Now that'd make for some outstanding reality TV.

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9/11 is over

Better late than never. I neglected to link to this excellent piece by Howard Fineman in Newsweek over the Thanksgiving weekend -- a review of the state of affairs in Washington while so many Washingtonians were away. I generally go up and down on Fineman, but he's immensely readable and, here, he's right on the mark:

A chapter has just ended in the life of the country, the chapter that began on 9/11. We came together in the aftermath of that still-unimaginable catastrophe.

The emotion of unity lasted long enough to get the president reelected a year ago. My sense was that the voters were not going to give Osama & Co. the satisfaction of ousting Bush, almost no matter what, and yet the insular and not particularly ept John Kerry almost won. Bush claimed a mandate. By the statistical standards of history, he was justified in doing so. The Second Inaugural Address he gave was astonishing in its neo-Wilsonian sweep. The rhetoric was grand. But the country wasn’t buying.

So as the year winds down, the post-9/11 consensus has vanished, blown away by the bloody predations of evildoers in Iraq; by the growing belief that Bush was sloppy at best, dishonest at worst, in claiming Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, and that the dictator was itching to use them; and by the farrago of ineptitude called FEMA.

Most Americans no longer believe the central justification that was offered for war in Iraq. They no longer believe that the president is an honest man or an effectively strong leader. They no longer believe that going to war in Iraq made us safer here at home. And they are beginning to think that maybe we should just get the hell out.

There are challenges ahead, some seemingly insurmountable, but I think it's important to move on outside the shadow of 9/11. It was truly a day that shall live on in infamy, but it must not be allowed to cloud our judgement.

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The GOP's M.O. -- all the lies that are fit to spread

My friend Mike at the great Crooks and Liars sent me a link to this post from State of the Day on how the Republicans' do their thing:

This Is How They Do It: Lie, Rinse, Repeat

Give it a read.

One point, which I must credit to a different friend today: The Republicans generally don't retract their lies and distortions. The Niger/uranium story is the rare exception.

Life must be so easy when you don't have to deal with reality. Right, Mr. Cheney et al.?

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Monday, November 28, 2005

The changing nature of the war in Iraq

Make sure to read Seymour Hersh's latest at The New Yorker -- on Bush, Murtha, and where the Iraq War is headed. As usual, he cuts through all the White House spin and reveals what's really going on. I'd pick out a few key passages, but it's all good.

Okay, here's one: "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."

There will be a quantitative withdrawal of U.S. forces, but the war will continue: "Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower," as one expert puts it.

Will it work? I have confidence in the U.S. military, but not in the civilian leadership, not in the occupant of the Oval Office, not when it's all about the next photo-op and political considerations leading up to 2006 and beyond: "The Administration’s immediate political goal after the December elections is to show that the day-to-day conduct of the war can be turned over to the newly trained and equipped Iraqi military. It has already planned heavily scripted change-of-command ceremonies, complete with the lowering of American flags at bases and the raising of Iraqi ones."

Surely the Iraqi people deserve better.

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The Duke goes down: Cunningham pleads guilty


Representative Randy Cunningham of California resigned from Congress today after admitting to a federal judge that he had taken $2.4 million in bribes from a military contractor.

Mr. Cunningham, 63, made a brief and tearful announcement to a group of reporters outside a federal courthouse in San Diego after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery. He admitted to taking money from a military contractor in exchange for his supporting the contractor's efforts to secure Defense Department contracts. The eight-term Republican congressman, one of the most highly decorated fighter pilots of the Vietnam War, also pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion for underreporting his income in 2004.

"The truth is I broke the law," Mr. Cunningham, and "disgraced my family."

"I forfeited my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions," and, he added, his voice breaking, "most importantly, the trust of my friends and family."

"I can't undo what I have done but I can atone," he told reporters.

Well, I hope you do. (By the way, you've also disgraced Congress and the Constitution. And you've fueled the apathy and cynicism that pervades American political life. Your friends and family must be so proud.)

Good riddance.


For some good reaction, see The Carpetbagger Report, Demagogue, Shakespeare's Sister, The Left Coaster, and Running Scared.

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Adieu, Monsieur Chirac!

As bad as things get for the beleaguered Bush, he has nothing on Chirac: "Jacques Chirac's presidency hit a new low yesterday when a poll revealed that most voters think he now has little or no influence over events at home or abroad."

We can only wish that Bush had such little influence.

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The "trophy" video scandal

I know a couple of private security guards in Iraq -- truly honourable men doing dangerous and difficult work.

Unfortunately, this gives them all a bad name and is otherwise truly repugnant: "A 'trophy' video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal. The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis."

Nice, eh?

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Three cheers for President Bush!*

Check out Digby's amusing take on the flip-floppers at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., now taking credit for achieving "consensus" on withdrawal from Iraq.

Uh, right.

*You don't think I'm serious, do you?

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Iraq then and now -- the abuse continues

Make of this what you will. I'll just report it as is:

Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein if not worse, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said.

"People are doing the same as (in) Saddam's time and worse," Allawi said in an interview published in Britain on Sunday.

"It is an appropriate comparison," Allawi told The Observer newspaper. "People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

The "same things"? Well, some of them, perhaps -- the torture of Iraqis by Iraqis, for example. But has there been anything resembling organized genocide? Have entire communities been gassed? Is this post-Saddam regime, however flawed, a regime of terror? Surely not.

Nonetheless, Allawi is surely onto something. He may overstate the case, and he may have an ax to grind, but abuse is a reality in present-day Iraq -- and I don't mean Abu Ghraib-style abuse. And what concerns me, given this ongoing abuse, is that Iraqis will soon have to govern themselves without the large-scale presence of an occupying power. Are they prepared to do so without sliding back into Saddam-style oppression?

Recently, thanks to the latest White House spin, all the focus has been on whether or not Iraqis will be ready to protect and police themselves upon a staggered U.S. withdrawal through 2006 and 2007. But what of this, according to Allawi: "We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated... A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them."

The state of Iraqi security forces notwithstanding, is this the Iraq that the U.S. will leave behind -- an Iraq that all-too-closely resembles what it was under Saddam?

If so, shouldn't President Bush himself be held to account?

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Joe-mentum for the GOP

Is this at all a surprise? The Republicans' favourite Democrat in Congress is:

Joe Lieberman.

(Which is a reflection of why so many Democrats dislike him.)

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Update: The plot to bomb Aljazeera

The BBC: "The head of al-Jazeera is delivering a letter to Tony Blair demanding the facts on reports that President Bush suggested bombing the Arab TV station. He wants a memo published which is alleged to show Tony Blair dissuaded President Bush from bombing its HQ... Wadah Khanfar is calling for the facts to be made public and urgent talks... Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Mr Khanfar said: 'Al- Jazeera is in the foremost of free form and democracy in the Arab world and therefore this news that we have heard is very concerning. So we demand a proper explanation and we would like to know the facts about this letter.'"

My original post on the alleged plot to bomb Aljazeera's headquarters in Qatar is here.

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I wish Bush would be (fill in the blank)

So, what do you think of this vocabulary quiz from Vermont?

Kevin Drum has a funny take here: "I say, leave the poor guy alone. After all, if you can't make jokes about George Bush's diction even in Vermont, the terrorists have won."

Ah, education can be so much fun.

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