Saturday, December 17, 2005

Henry Moore sculpture stolen

Which begs the question: How do you steal a 2,000-kilogram sculpture?

And a related question: If the sculpture's so valuable, was there no security?

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Friday, December 16, 2005

THE KOUFAX AWARDS

Wampum, a great blog in its own right, has opened up nominations for the 2005 Koufax Awards. In an act of narcissism, I've already nominated The Reaction for:

  • Best New Blog;
  • Best Writing;
  • Most Deserving of Wider Recognition; and
  • Best Series (for Signs of the Apocalypse -- see right sidebar).
If you like The Reaction, please click here and nominate it in one or more categories (scroll down to the comments section) -- these four seem to be the most appropriate; if you like a specific post, then go for Best Post, too. There are some incredible liberal blogs out there, and I certainly don't expect to win anything (nor even to be a finalist for anything), but I thought it worthwhile to dispense with humility for a moment and to give it a shot.

Why not? Again, click here. The more nominations the better.

And, of course, I'll also be nominating my own favourite blogs in various categories, including (but certainly not limited to) Political Animal, The Carpetbagger Report, The Washington Note, Informed Comment, Echidne of the Snakes, Demagogue, Crooks and Liars, The Left Coaster, War and Piece, Hullabaloo, The Sideshow, Iddybud, The Anonymous Liberal, Alternate Brain, Pam's House Blend, The Heretik, The Decembrist, Ezra Klein, Bradford Plumer, Majikthise, and Preemptive Karma -- well, check out my "Liberals" blogroll -- they're all good.

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On the Iraqi election

From the L.A. Times: "Iraqis across ethnic, sectarian and religious divides voted in droves today in a high-stakes election that could determine the course of the nation and the success or failure of the U.S. effort to bring Western-style democracy to the Arab Middle East."

Well, maybe. It's an important step on the road to liberal democracy in Iraq, but the key word here is "could". I'll do a round-up of reaction over the weekend, once more is known, but here's some reading for you, some stand-out or otherwise helpful posts that I've come across:

  • Iraq the Model: "We got our purple fingers" -- see here
  • Daily Kos: "More purple fingers, to what end? -- see here
  • The Glittering Eye: "Election day in Iraq" -- see here
  • Michelle Malkin: "History-making in Iraq" -- see here
  • Captain's Quarters: "Nation on the edge of forever -- see here.

Professor Bainbridge very much expresses my own thoughts on the election: "Who can deny that the election today in Iraq is a good thing? The voting reportedly went remarkably well. Yet, the triumphalism I'm seeing on the war blogs and hearing on talk radio strikes me as unwarranted. Democracy is a lot more than elections. The old Soviet Union had elections, after all. Iran has elections all the time, which lately have been electing hard line Islamofascists, a point that strikes me as very relevant to today's events. Heck, even Hitler got elected back in 1933. So let's not count our chickens before they hatch. If five years from now, Iraq is a peaceful, multi-ethnic federal state, we can all look back on today fondly. If five years from now, Iraq is run by a pro-Iranian bunch of Shia mullahs and riven by ethnic strife, today will have meant exactly squat. The mission is not accomplished."

As many of you know, I've been extremely critical of the conduct of the war in, and occupation of, Iraq. But I do hope this election proves to be of lasting success. After all, however much we may dislike President Bush, however much we may be critical of his mismanaged war, what matters here is the well-being of the Iraqi people.

Yesterday was an incredible day in Iraq. Saddam and his barbarous regime are gone and there was -- gasp! -- a democratic election in the heart of the Middle East. All those voters, all those purple fingers -- that means something.

But now the hard work of building a democracy, a liberal democracy, continues.

Are the Iraqis up to the task? I suspect they are.

I certainly hope so.

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The political poetry of John Dingell

Must-read:

Zoe Kentucky of Demagogue fame quotes the wonderful poem that Rep. Dingell (D-MI) recited on the House floor in opposition to a gratuitous (and unnecessary) pro-Christmas resolution -- see here.

Best stanza:

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to... well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.

Christmas is hardly under siege. Bill O'Reilly, who's leading this stupid crusade, is an "illiberal paranoid conspiracy theorist".

And John Dingell is very funny... and right on the mark.

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Bush agrees to McCain's torture ban

Humanity 1, Bush 0.

It's yet another White House flip-flop, but at least it's hypocrisy in the right direction. From the Post:

The White House and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reached agreement today on a measure that would ban torture and limit interrogation tactics in U.S. detention facilities, a provision that the Bush administration had strongly resisted but that received broad support in Congress.

The agreement, announced after President Bush met with McCain and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) in the White House, came a day after the House overwhelmingly approved language supported by McCain that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in the custody of the U.S. government. The Senate approved the provision by a lopsided margin earlier.

My last post on torture (with links to previous posts) is here.

**********

Around the blogosphere:

Andrew Sullivan: "[T]his is a huge step forward for the president, the war and American honor. It also has, I think, implications for McCain's possible succession to Bush as president."

The Carpetbagger Report: "The events that led the White House to reverse course on this will no doubt be fleshed out in the coming hours and days, but it seems safe to assume that when the House easily passed a non-binding resolution in support of McCain's amendment last night, 308 to 122, and in the process ignored the administration's demands, Bush's congressional liaisons knew the writing was on the wall."

But don't get too excited: Body and Soul exposes a potentially serious problem. So does Think Progress. And The Heretik.

The White House probably did see the writing on the wall and obviously needed to do something to align itself with public and Congressional opinion (not to mention humanity). And, on the surface, this looks good. I've long been a supporter of McCain on this issue. As I put it yesterday, "there ought to be a firm and absolute ban against [torture]". This White House flip-flop -- and McCain's victory over his opponents throughout the Republican Party -- moves America closer to such a ban.

But don't yet take Bush at his word. He and his pro-torture cronies, led by Cheney, are likely looking for whatever loophole they can find.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush and DeLay: Bestest buddies

So: "President Bush said yesterday he is confident that former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is innocent of money-laundering charges."

Do you believe him?*

The Carpetbagger Report compares Bush's inappropriate defence of DeLay (that is, the president commenting on an ongoing criminal case) to Bush's defence of his pal Raffy Palmeiro this past summer: "It's interesting to me the way in which Bush deals with evidence that conflicts with his preconceived ideas. Palmeiro tested positive for steroid use, but Bush likes him, so he defends Palmeiro's innocence. Tom DeLay more or less admitted his involvement in a money-laundering scheme, but Bush likes him, so he defends DeLay's innocence. As Kevin Drum put it a few months ago, 'It's like listening to a small child. He doesn't want to believe it, so it isn't true.' It must make Bush's daily life absolutely delightful. Ignorance, after all, is bliss."

(My posts on the Palmeiro steroid story are here, here, and here.)

See also Demagogue, Middle Earth Journal, The Heretik, and AMERICAblog.

* I don't.

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Canadian election, American interference

Do U.S. officials have this overwhelming itch to interfere in issues that don't concern them? Like, for example, the Canadian election?

Yesterday, United States Ambassador David Wilkins made a statement that Canadian politicians on the campaign trail should not "bash Washington," or, in essence, use it as an issue to win the election. He feels that anti-American sentiments could undermine the relations between the two countries. No, Mr. Wilkins, I believe the President's stance on softwood lumber tariffs are responsible for that -- and Kyoto (although, to be fair, we do need to work on that; we're not any better on pollution right now).

Does this American presidency have such a thin skin that it cannot withstand comments from Canada? Honestly. While I'm not too keen on the U.S.-bashing at times (hey, I love New York and the blue states), the fact of the matter is that anti-Americanism is a large part of the identity of the country, beginning when the United States became independent.

Even the first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, came up with his (distinctly anti-American) National Policy in 1876 to protect local farmers, workers, and industries from American companies. Elections have always been won that way, and that threat of being swallowed up by the U.S. and its culture has always struck fear in the hearts of Canadians. And it works, because it's true: We don't want to be American.

But apart from that, the concern over the lumber tariffs, as Paul Martin refuted, existed even before this election was called -- and it is a genuine issue because the Canadian industry is suffering under it, and the President Bush has continuously chosen to ignore NAFTA rulings. So why is the ambassador's feathers ruffled over this now? It's bewildering.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, however, is "unrepentant" in his stance. During an appearance at a sawmill in British Columbia, Martin stated, "I am not going to be dictated to as to the subjects that I should raise... I will make sure that Canada speaks with an independent voice now, tomorrow and always, and you should demand nothing less from your prime minister."

Even Conservative Leader Stephen Harper called Wilkins's comments "inappropriate" and said that no foreign ambassador should be intervening in another country's election campaign.

This is the first time (and likely the last) I'll ever agree with Harper.

Canada is a sovereign and independent nation. While we may be close trading partners with the United States, we are by no means an extention of it. When there are matters and issues under our jurisdiction that require our attention and protection, we're going to tackle them, even if that means confronting our southern neighbours. We won't be dictated to.

The best thing for the U.S. government to do would be to distance itself from David Wilkins's statements and offer to resolve these problems in a fair and timely manner with whomever is elected. Though I seriously doubt that'll happen -- we're dealing with Dubya here. Enough said.

At the same time, the NDP and Conservatives, while disapproving of Wilkins's statements, are using this opportunity to jump on the Liberals, calling the anti-American rhetoric "posturing". But, as I've said, softwood lumber and climate change were considered major issues before the election was even called, and Martin was very visibly working on them.

It seems right now that the only person being forced to tone down his rhetoric is U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins. Oh, the irony.

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To torture or not to torture?

If you've been reading The Reaction at all in recent months, you'll know that I'm firmly and absolutely against torture and that I think there ought to be a firm and absolute ban against it. See, for example:

Instapundit has a solid round-up here. I also recommend Michael Kinsley's latest piece at Slate, which carefully (and, in my view, successfully) takes apart Charles Krauthammer's reprehensible argument for torture -- see here.

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Aragorn takes on Sauron

It may just be gossip, but Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen has been taking on President Bush: "I'm not anti-Bush; I'm anti-Bush behavior. In other words, I'm against cheating, greed, cruelty, racism, imperialism, religious fundamentalism, treason, and the seemingly limitless capacity for hypocrisy shown by Bush and his administration."

You go, Aragorn!

(Although, surely, Bush isn't Sauron and the White House isn't Barad-dur. That would be giving them far too much credit -- it's more incompetence than evil that defines them.)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

War and choice: President Bush's deceptive admission of responsibility

In a thoroughly misleading article on its website, CNN is reporting that "President Bush took responsibility Wednesday for 'wrong' intelligence that led to the war". But did he?

Here's what he said (see the full transcript here): "As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we are doing just that."

But for what exactly did he take responsibility? For:

  1. "the decision to go into Iraq"; and
  2. "fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities".

We all know President Bush is responsible for the decision to go to war. He's the president. Who else could be responsible (well, see below)? And it's fine to say that he's responsible for fixing "what went wrong". But by "what went wrong" he meant the pre-war proliferation of bad intelligence. As he put it in his speech, "much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong". But this wasn't solely an American problem, for "many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction".

There are at least three significant problems here.

First, Bush deflects responsibility by diffusing it, by blaming intelligence failures on "many intelligence agencies around the world". We may have gotten it seriously wrong, he is saying, but so did everyone else. But does this even matter? It was the U.S. that went to war in Iraq, that was the dominant member of the so-called "coalition of the willing".

Second (and perhaps most important), both the CIA and non-U.S. intelligence agencies expressed grave reservations about Saddam's alleged WMD stockpiles and programs. The real problem is not that "our intelligence capabilities" were faulty but that the intelligence itself may have been manipulated or at least selectively edited and shaped to suit a preconceived plan to go to war -- or at least shaped and edited so that going to war seemed to be the responsible thing to do. So Bush says that he takes responsibility both for the decision and for the intelligence failures that led to that decision, but he isn't sincere about the latter and, for obvious reasons, he neglects to explain how the political channels that connected the intelligence to the decision may have distorted the intelligence and brought about a bad decision based on distorted (or selective) intelligence.

Third, Bush claims elsewhere in his speech that he was not in fact responsible for the decision to go to war: "Given Saddam's history, and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat, and the American people, and the world is better off because he is no longer in power." Whenever Bush has no sound case to make for the war in Iraq, he raises the specter of 9/11.

Unlike some of his right-wing supporters, he has stopped making explicit connections between Iraq and 9/11. But the implicit message is clear. Here's what Bush is really saying: Saddam was a bad guy for a number of reasons, but that may not have been enough to go to war, nor to justify the loss of American life to a public that has lost confidence that their president knows what he's doing. But don't forget about 9/11, a turning point in American history. Since America was attacked, with thousands of Americans killed, any response to terrorism, however understood, is justified.

But here's where the logic breaks down: The U.S. is fighting jihadist terrorists in Iraq. Jihadist terrorists attacked America on 9/11. Therefore, even if there wasn't a connection between Iraq and 9/11 (and there wasn't), the war in Iraq is a key part of the war on jihadist terrorism. BUT (and this is a "but" that Bush doesn't delve into): Saddam may have sympathized with jihadist terrorists in Israel, but his Iraq was a modern, secular state ruled by an authoritarian cult of personality. The 9/11 terrorists were Saudis, not Iraqis. Al Qaeda was largely based in and around Afghanistan, not in Iraq. At most, Saddam posed a conventional, state-based threat to the Middle East, as he did to Kuwait back before the Gulf War, but he was not (is not) a jihadist. Jihadism thrives in Iraq today only because the U.S. is there, only because Bush chose to go to war and to set up a new Iraqi regime. In this sense, the world is not safer for Saddam's removal. Bush wants to defend his war in Iraq in terms of the war on terror, but it has been his war in Iraq that unleashed terrorism in Iraq.

Which is why I and so many others have argued over and over again that the war on terror should have been waged elsewhere, more fluidly and flexibly, not in Iraq, a non-terrorist state that has been turned into yet another breeding ground for jihadism.

Finally, did Bush honestly take responsibility for the decision to go to war? Consider this: "The United States did not choose war. The choice was Saddam Hussein's." Things may not have gone well, thousands of Americans and even more thousands of Iraqis may have been killed, and the future may be dangerously uncertain, but in Bush's view he had no choice. He did what he had to do because someone else started it.

No, this doesn't let Saddam off the hook. He was a tyrant who murdered his own people and the Iraqis are certainly better off with out him. But Bush has only taken selective responsibility for this war of choice -- in truth, he hasn't taken responsibility at all.

He's like the Bart Simpson who once rose to sudden fame on Krusty's show for uttering a single impish line: "I didn't do it."

But he did. And so did President Bush.

Without yet taking real responsibility.

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Why Frank Rich's liberalism is all the rage

Bryan Curtis has an interesting piece on Frank Rich -- "The Butcher of the Beltway" -- at Slate. Curtis makes a valid case against Rich, however much he may like his politics, and I would tend to agree that Rich operates very much within "a kind of airtight ideological bunker" that offers "reaffirmation" and "the issuance of a crisp verdict" to New York's disgruntled liberal elite. In short, "it's possible to cheer on Rich's crusades and feel that his column leaves you short. Rarely does he offer much more than illuminating rage. It's the kind of close-minded liberalism that, at its heart, is the antithesis of liberalism."

Rich has indeed become a "defiant liberal champion" with a high-profile column in the highest of high-profile newspapers that acts as "a sort of liberal call to arms". And he does indeed "draw connections between the various GOP outrages" in a way that most other liberals don't (or can't). I agree with Curtis that his columns are often "unsatisfying," and I often find myself wanting more (at least back when I read him regularly, back in the days before TimesSelect).

But Rich, whom I previously wrote about here, is not all rage, intellectual simplicity, and narrow ideology. His columns are often fascinating, challenging, and illuminating, and he himself is a serious, thoughtful, non-partisan liberal who cares about the state of American culture and, more politically, who worries about the degradations of Bush and the Republican Party.

I may be more of a Manhattan liberal that I would care to let on, or that I would even imagine myself to be, but, weaknesses aside, Rich remains to me an indispensable writer of astute political commentary and analysis, one from whom liberals can continue to learn a great deal.

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Funniest part of the Curtis piece:

A few weeks ago, I went to see Rich among the faithful, giving a talk at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Each year, the 92nd Street Y brings in a roster of eminences, from Alan Alda to Barbara Boxer, designed to draw out the old lions of Manhattan liberalism. A sign of Rich's star power is that tickets for his "evening with" had sold out well in advance, as they do every time he visits the Y. The lobby had the giddy buzz of a rock concert, and I spotted an elderly woman, suffering from age or just desperation to see her hero, attempt twice to sneak into the auditorium without a ticket. Inside, the audience hung on Rich's every word, nodding vigorously when he skewered George W. Bush ("I think he has lost the trust of the country") and resignedly when he skewered the Democrats ("I think the Democrats are pathetic"). Within a half-hour the synchronous head-bobbing had reached a level achieved only by a few rock acts; I imagine the aging ladies in the front row were ready to pelt Rich with their underwear, if only they had been able to stand.

Yes, he was on his home turf, and, yes, he was speaking to his own kind, and, no, he may not have as much national appeal as, say, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, or Paul Krugman, but Frank Rich is the most compelling of them all.

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Sex with minors in red-state America

At his eponymous blog, my friend Greg Prince discovers a disturbing red-state trend regarding sex with minors and the rather unequal punishment thereof -- see here (and draw your own conclusions).

(Note: Yes, the title of this post is intentionally provocative. Whatever conclusions we may draw, whatever cultural patterns may actually exist, I do recognize that sex with minors is not exclusively a red-state phenomenon. Still...)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A turn for the worse: Five years of George W. Bush

Yes, it's my birthday, but The Guardian reminds us of this depressing anniversary:

Five years ago today Al Gore phoned George Bush to formally concede the presidency. Since then the United States has suffered it's worst ever terrorist attack, become embroiled in a disastrous foreign war and bungled the response to a natural catastrophe. So what is the Bush legacy after half a decade? Is he a ruthless Machiavellian or a bumbling puppet? A devout idealist or a cynical opportunist? A disaster or a mild disappointment?

Read on for the verdicts of "six top American commentators". I'm sure you all know what I think: a bumbling puppet, an idealist and an opportunist, and more or less a disaster.

Questions? Comments?

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In search of a presidential message

It looks like the Bushies are searching for a "[n]ew strategy for winning over the American people" -- see here.

Yeah, good luck with that. The American people aren't that gullible -- are they?

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A birthday at The Reaction

I don't write much about myself here at The Reaction -- I just let my opinions and analyses speak for themselves. But why not mention that today's my birthday, my first as a blogger?

And, as always, the last few lines of Pink Floyd's "Time" come to mind:

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time,
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
The time has gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say.

And so we carry on...

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David Cameron: The British Tories' new Wunderkind?

(Ed. note: This is my brother James's first post at The Reaction. It's great to have him here, and I hope you all enjoy what I'm sure you'll find to be interesting, intelligent posts.)

It seems the new leader of Britain’s Tories, the 39 year-old David Cameron, is already having an effect on the fortunes of his once-great party – that is, if you believe opinion polls. A recent poll on voting intentions by YouGov puts the Conservatives at 37%, one point ahead of Labour, with the third-party Liberal Democrats at 18%.

It’s pretty much a done deal that Tony Blair’s Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will be the next prime minister. But will Cameron be the one after that?

Obviously it’s too early to say, but the new Leader of the Opposition’s first performance at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the weekly political theatre in the House of Commons, was rather impressive. He has made much of wanting to end the “Punch and Judy” aspect of British politics: political conflict for the sake of political conflict (although it seems that this is much less of a problem at Westminster than in Washington).


His questions to Blair were level-headed and, so as not to disappoint his backbenchers (and also to irritate Labour’s MPs) there was something of, if not Punch and Judy, then at least an indication that Cameron will not make it easy for Blair. Cameron lambasted the government Chief Whip for interrupting him by “shouting like a child” and then asked the PM if all of the proposed new freedoms for schools would make it into the new Education Bill. In a comment calculated to infuriate left-wing Labour MPs, he told Blair, “With our support... there is no danger of losing these education reforms in a parliamentary vote” – this in response to a real Punch and Judy question from the Prime Minister in which he sarcastically asked Cameron if he could count on the Conservatives to support the government on the bill. To which Cameron replied, “Absolutely.”

Prime Minister’s Question Time is hardly productive politics, one might say. But I enjoyed it for the simple reason that the political scene has become rather more interesting since David Cameron emerged as a contender for the Tory leadership and began his extraordinary rise to power. There is something pleasing about the way he catapulted himself out of relative obscurity by a
good speech at his party’s conference – and a correspondingly bad (or at least poorly-delivered) one by his eventual opponent in the run-off, David Davis. More importantly, Cameron has that indefinable charisma which marks him out as a future leader of the country, something which none of his predecessors since Thatcher have possessed (but which Blair possesses in abundance). Finally, it really is refreshing to see a viable alternative to the present government, which has dominated the House of Commons since 1997. A democratic country needs a strong opposition to be powerful, as even Tony Blair has admitted.

Before we get over-excited (and, after all, this is a “liberal-to-moderate” blog) we should note that Cameron takes over a party in a pretty bad state. The Tories’ divisions over the issue of Britain’s place in the European Union are still there. And, oddly enough for a party that did so much to change Britain in the 1980s, there is a large contingent of Tories (perhaps the majority?) who seem to wish we were still living in some idealised past. The Conservative Party that lost the last election after a campaign virtually vilifying immigrants and asylum seekers was clearly not fit to run the country.

The question is: Can the Conservatives become Britain’s real liberal party? There is room for a party that wants to protect the people’s liberty against the state, is socially tolerant, and is willing to look beyond the state for solutions to the country’s problems. The Labour Party has in recent years revealed that its commitment to human rights is at best lukewarm – witness its anti-terrorism legislation. As for the
Liberal Democrats, the fact that they seem to position themselves to the right of Labour in Tory-leaning constituencies and to the left of the government in Labour-leaning ones suggests there is some sort of identity crisis going on.

It is, as Blair said in a recent interview, too early to judge Cameron. But his setting up of a
policy group on the environment, his support for the government’s plans to give schools more freedom, and his plan to increase the number of women and ethnic minority Conservative MPs are all on the right track. Blair must be worried.

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Optimism in Iraq

Speaking of Iraq (see previous post), a new opinion poll "suggests Iraqis are generally optimistic about their lives, in spite of the violence that has plagued Iraq since the US-led invasion," according to the BBC. However, "security fears still dominate most Iraqis' thoughts. Their priority for the coming year would be the restoration of security and the withdrawal of foreign troops. A majority of the 1,700 people questioned wanted a united Iraq with a strong central government."

See the BBC article for more poll results and analysis.

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The Iraqi election begins

Popular Iraqi blog Iraq the Model reports here on the early stages of voting in Iraq's parliamentary elections.

ITM is characteristically optimistic.

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Sydney's shame: Race riots down under

Coverage of the French riots was all the rage, at least until the riots died down and the story became, well, a non-story. But now there's a new and similar story coming out of Australia, where riots are engulfing parts of Sydney and other areas of New South Wales:

Violence triggered by race tensions has hit Sydney for a second night, with youths damaging cars and shops.

A reporter in the suburb of Cronulla, where dozens were arrested after riots on Sunday, described scenes of "chaos".

Police said carloads of people had come into the area from other parts of Sydney and committed violent acts. Australian Prime Minister John Howard condemned the weekend's attacks by thousands of young white men on people of Arabic and Mediterranean background.

How lovely. Isn't nationalism great?

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From Australia:

Melbourne's The Age is reporting that Prime Minister Howard has claimed that the riots won't harm Australia's reputation, that rioters are stockpiling weapons, and that nationalists (i.e., racist thugs) may be preparing to riot in Melbourne.

The Australian is reporting that Sydney is a city divided by rival gangs and that eye-for-an-eye revenge attacks will ensue.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that 450 police officers will be patrolling Sydney's streets tonight and has more on Howard's reaction.

All three newspapers have good coverage, but check out the SMH for regular updates under the heading "Sydney's Shame" here.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Schwarzenegger denies clemency to Williams

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today denied clemency to Crips street gang founder Stanley Tookie Williams, who is now scheduled to die later tonight at the hands of the people of California.

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases and I am tempted to criticize Schwarzenegger for refusing to do what seems to be the right thing.

Yet I must agree with Ann Althouse on this, at least in part: "Personally, I'm opposed to the death penalty, but I can't understand why this person deserves it less than others who don't get clemency. Fame shouldn't be enough. Having famous supporters shouldn't be enough."

Does Williams deserve clemency more than others? Well, he seems to have reformed himself in prison. Is that not enough? Perhaps not.

Simply, the death penalty should be abolished. Before then, clemency should be granted whenever and wherever possible. I do criticize Schwarzenegger for not granting clemency in this case, but it is surely unjust to grant clemency selectively.

But, then, the death penalty is also unjust. What would be more unjust -- selective clemency or taking Williams's life? Surely the latter.

This is yet one more death at the hands of the state. A death that could have been prevented. I realize that justice often means fairness, but that should have been the ultimate consideration.

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John Cole has a good take at Balloon Juice, including the text of Schwarzenegger's response.

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Chile set for run-off presidential election

This is the new Chile -- the Chile of democracy and free elections, not the Chile of CIA-supported dictatorship, of Pinochet and Missing.

Center-left candidate Michelle Bachelet, who leads the Concertacion bloc, which has been in power since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990, won 45.8 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in this weekend's presidential election. In Chile's two-round system, if a candidate doesn't win at least 50 percent in the first round, the top two candidates face off in a second round of voting -- which, in this case, would take place on January 15.

Two conservative candidates, Sebastian Pinera and Joaquin Lavin, finished well back in second and third place, respectively, but Lavin has thrown his support behind Pinera, and together they won 49.0 percent of the vote. Anything can happen in the second round of voting -- including increased/decreased voter turnout and swings in the electorate to and from the remaining two candidates -- but Bachelet will likely need the support of Tomas Hirsch, the communist candidate who finished in fourth place with 5.3 percent of the vote, in order to win the presidency against the right-wing bloc.

Here's hoping that happens.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #28: Heidi's Stud Farm

Alas, Heidi Fleiss is back in the news. Madam Heidi is looking to set up an all-male bordello (for women) in the Nevada desert, 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Newsweek has the story here.

And here's what we're looking at: "This pleasure palace will be shaped like a castle, with a marble-floored great room, a spa, a sex-toy shop and secluded bungalows where 20 Casanovas will spend quality time with the clientele (at $250 an hour)."

Ouch, pretty steep -- but what do I know?

Still, I suppose it's only fair that women should have their bordellos, too. Why should only men be able to enjoy the particular pleasures (whatever they are) of paid-for sex in the kitschy confines of an upscale Nevada whorehouse?

I'm not sure if the SOTA is this new twist on the bordello or the fact that Heidi Fleiss is back in the news. As concerned as I am about the proliferation of vulgarity in our culture, I'd say it's likely the latter. I'd be much happier if, say, Peggy Noonan was running the show.

Regardless, there's just something apocalyptic about the whole thing, isn't there?

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Comparing visions: Political ads in Canada

Over the course of the election in Canada, there will be political advertisements airing on television (which is a given). A viewer can sort of glean what kind of vision each party has for the country, along with their platforms, by watching them.

Being the geek that I am, I actually sat through the political television ads for both the Liberal and Conservative Party on their respective websites.

So far, the Conservatives have more in quantity, but... it appears as though they were very cheaply produced. It could be the emotionless eyes and vaguely uncomfortable expression of the actress, *ahem* reporter, sitting across from Stephen Harper, as they watch video footage of the average Canadian citizen voicing their concerns about accountability, child care, and so forth.

There was one thing I noticed, when I first started screening these on December 6, which was consistent in all of the ads - every person they have on-camera who wants to ask Harper a question seems outraged and hostile, and for some reason, they're all white women, placed in front of a generic urban background, which seems somewhat unnatural and creepy. The only thing that varies is their age.

Since then, the Tories have frequently updated with more ads, this time including men who asked about trades, seniors, and the like. Until December 9th, all of the people on the street have been white, until they included an African-Canadian who had this question in "Ready": "I wish you luck, but are you really up to this?" Everyone else had specific issues, but this man was the portrayal of voter-apathy, and when you're making ads of this nature, you have to be prepared for people to read into it, and the viewer also has to read between the lines. This reminded me of Not Another Teen Movie, and if you've seen it, you'll know that one character, Malik, was given the title of "Token Black Guy" -- he offered nothing to the conversation, and was only there because the film maker was looking to add some sort of racial diversity to the piece.

Today, another ad was put on the website, "Priorities," with a woman who looked vaguely and inconclusively East Asian who asked a general question regarding issues that were covered by the older ads. Basically, like "Ready," they're just putting in an ethnic minority for the sake of it. Not only that, but the whole thing begins with the "reporter" asking Harper: "Okay, so you want to be Prime Minister. What are you going to do first when you get there?"

Forgive me, but that sounds like a question for Miss America.

The formula is the same in each one: the "reporter" asks a question, Harper responds with an attack against the Liberals, they go to the white woman with the question, and then the platform is revealed.

Now onto the Liberals. For those who think I'm singing praises about the ads just because I'm a Grit, I'm not. The quality of the image is much sharper (makes it much more appealing, visually), and instead of hostility, the people on the video are talking about all the good things the Liberal government has done. Among them, a smiling woman in B.C. talking about Canada being the only G8 country with a surplus, a middle-aged farmer in Saskatchewan saying that the province has shaken its "have-not" status.

Now, I think they've really hit something here: they've covered all the bases. The ads reflect the multicultural nature of the country by featuring people of all races, men and women. They appear to have been filmed across Canada, and the fact that they shot some of it with a focus on the prairie and Atlantic provinces, along with British Columbia, is good (regionalism, anyone?). They're not on the attack, but going through the accomplishments of Martin's government, and yes, there's even mention of protection of the Charter of Rights (a very quiet nod to the legalization of same-sex marriage).

If they are actors, the people in the video seem a little more relaxed, although a couple of them did lack facial expressions and had deadpan voices.

There's even a massive difference in the background music between the Liberal and Conservative ads.

It might just be my partisanship talking, but if I had to vote based on these videos, I would definitely be voting for the Liberals.

Want to check it out for yourself?

Click here for the Liberals.

Click here for the Conservatives.

(Ed. note: In Canada, "Grit" is the nickname for "Liberal," just as "Tory" is for "Conservative". Liberals are often referred to as Grits, Conservatives (as in Britain) as Tories.)

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cory Maye: A case of injustice

My friend Angelica at Battlepanda is doing a marvellous job raising awareness of a story that I must admit I knew very little about before her important post prompted me to find out more:

The injustice of the Cory Maye case, a Mississippi man who currently sits on death row for killing in self-defence.

The story was first broken, at least in the blogosphere, by The Agitator, whose post Battlepanda justly praises:

Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid...

Maye's case is an outrage. Prentiss, Mississippi clearly violated Maye's civil rights the moment its cops needlessly and recklessly stormed his home in the middle of the night. The state of Mississippi is about to add a perverse twist to that violation by executing Maye for daring to defend himself.

I am firmly against the death penalty, and this case, as Angelica puts it, lies at "the ugliest nexus of race, civil rights violations, southern juries and our criminal justice system".

Angelica: "I am going to keep track of right and left wing blogs mentioning the Cory Maye to see which side is doing a better job." It's a competition, to be sure, but a competition with a purpose beyond itself, a competition for a just cause -- a just cause that, ultimately, must transcend partisan differences and the usual divisions in the blogosphere.

I'm happy to be on Battlepanda's "Blue team," and let me here add The Reaction to the list of blogs addressing the Maye case. And let me also praise all of my fellow bloggers out there, bloggers from across the spectrum, who are doing what they can to raise awareness of this important story.

Cory Maye must receive the justice he is owed. And that's not the "justice" that the state of Mississippi would have him receive at its own bloody hands, but the justice rooted in the truth of his story.

Cory Maye must go free.

Please. Spread the word. Let's make something happen. Let's ensure that justice triumphs for Cory Maye.

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Bush the Bubble Boy

Must-read article in Newsweek:

"Bush in the Bubble" by Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe.

Make sure to read the whole article, but here are some key passages:

  • "President Bush has always shown an admirable ability to ignore the Washington pundits and make fun of the chattering classes. Yet his inattention to Murtha, a coal-country Pennsylvanian and rock-solid patriot, suggests a level of indifference, if not denial, that is dangerous for a president who seeks to transform the world."
  • "Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon."
  • "In subtle ways, Bush does not encourage truth-telling or at least a full exploration of all that could go wrong."
  • "Bush generally prefers short conversations—long on conclusion, short on reasoning. He likes popular history and presidential biography (Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington), but by all accounts, he is not intellectually curious. Occasional outsiders brought into the Bush Bubble have observed that faith, not evidence, is the basis for decision making."

Bush may yet rebound, at least in terms of popularity, if not in terms of actual achievement -- and certainly not in terms of the kind of actual achievement that I and his other critics would like to see -- what we would call positive achievement.

But "the record so far suggests that Bush is not likely to change in any fundamental way in the three years that remain in his term".

And that means, poll numbers and approval ratings notwithstanding, that we're stuck with Bush's faith-based mismanagement of the affairs of state.

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The nature of the conservative blogosphere

A couple of days ago, I mentioned an upcoming piece in the Times by Michael Crowley on the power and influence of the conservative blogosphere.

My initial post, with a link to Atrios, is here. Crowley's (rather short) piece is here.

Here's some of what Crowley has to say: "Liberals use the Web to air ideas and vent grievances with one another, often ripping into Democratic leaders. (Hillary Clinton, for instance, is routinely vilified on liberal Web sites for supporting the Iraq war.) Conservatives, by contrast, skillfully use the Web to provide maximum benefit for their issues and candidates. They are generally less interested in examining every side of every issue and more focused on eliciting strong emotional responses from their supporters."

Well, fair enough, but I think Atrios is right to point out that while the conservative blogosphere is more "effective," the liberal blogosphere is of greater "value".

Michelle Malkin calls Crowley's piece "one of most insipid, shallow, and uninformed wastes of space to grace the NYTimes' pages". She's right that there may be some diversity within the right-wing blogosphere, as evidenced most obviously by the Schiavo and Miers stories earlier this year, but there does seem to be a good deal of uniformity over there, too, and I would venture to suggest that there is far more diversity on the left, among liberals, than on the right, among conservatives.

But the conservative blogosphere is also very much a part of a unified conservative movement that includes multimillionaire donors, media conglomerates, think tanks, newspapers and magazines, academics, lobbying firms, and so on. As a Straussian whose education has been funded by some of the largest conservative philanthropic foundations, I've been privileged to see some of that movement, and how it operates, from within. And here's how I put it in a post on the conservative movement way back in April:

"[W]hat I can say with confidence is that what I know of conservatism -- beyond the ranting and raving and drooling of the O'Reillys, Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters, Malkins, etc. (ad nauseam) -- is intellectually diverse and self-reflective... But what conservatives have discovered is that it is possible to maintain diversity of thought behind a unified front... This is how they have been able to translate intellectual diversity and productive debate into political success, as the Republican Party has effectively become the bottleneck for conservative thought in America. Meanwhile, on the other side, liberals have grown smug and self-righteous, and they have not learned to put aside their internecine squabbles for the sake of unity. This is why they often look disorganized, discombobulated, and, at times, simply unelectable."

The conservative blogosphere may indeed be diverse in its own way -- diverse insofar as different elements of conservatism are debated and discussed, if rarely allowed to be challenged by non-conservative thought -- but like other parts of the conservative movement it sets aside such difference for the sake of political unity and the goal of electoral success. Yes, Schiavo and Miers revealed deep fissures in the conservative blogosphere, not to mention in the conservative movement as a whole, but those fissures were quickly paved over in the regrouping that followed those divisive moments. Call it a lack of principle, if you will, but conservatives seem to understand how to win better than liberals do.

This doesn't mean that we should be like them or that I would like to see the liberal blogosphere become the kind of narrow echosphere that is the conservative blogosphere. Like so many other bloggers, I cherish my independence, and the last thing I want is for The Reaction, or any of my favourite liberal blogs, to become relay mechanisms for centralized talking points. What defines us is our difference, our willingness to challenge and be challenged, our ability to discuss ideas without degenerating into propaganda.

However, there is much that we can learn from the right, and we would do well, I think, to support each other in our efforts to defend and promote a multifaceted conception of liberalism that can serve to sustain electoral success for liberals in much the same way that conservatives have benefitted from the movement that underpins them.

(Others commenting on Crowley's piece include Instapundit and, more substantially, MyDD.)

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Richard Pryor (1940-2005)

Richard Pryor died yesterday at the age of 65. He "couldn't escape the darkness," as he once put it, but he provided an extraordinary amount of light to American comedy: "[His] brilliant comic imagination and creative use of the blunt cadences of street language were revelations to most Americans. He did not simply tell stories, he brought them to vivid life, revealing the entire range of black America's humor, from its folksy rural origins to its raunchier urban expressions."

Screenwriter Roger L. Simon, who worked with Pryor on a number of projects, remembers him here.

Other blogs with good memorial posts include The Moderate Voice, Hullabaloo, Pam's House Blend, Middle Earth Journal, Daily Kos, Captain's Quarters, Pandagon, Shakespeare's Sister, Ezra Klein, The Anchoress, The Talking Dog, and Ruminate This.

Riehl World View (tip: Althouse) has some great video.

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