Saturday, January 14, 2006

Whither Iran?

At The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman looks at "[t]he growing, simmering crisis swirling around Iran's decision to ignore European and American calls for it to halt its nuclear program".

Here's more from the Times and the Post.

In Britain's Telegraph, Anton La Guardia addresses President Ahmadinejad's "divine mission": "The main rift is no longer between 'reformists' and 'hardliners', but between the clerical establishment and Mr Ahmadinejad's brand of revolutionary populism and superstition."

On the right, Michelle Malkin is "preparing for the worst". I'm not sure we're "on the brink," and I worry about the prospect of a reckless military excursion into Iran, not least one that diverts attention away from what's going on in Iraq, but Iran's pursuit of nuclear energy, and perhaps nuclear weaponry, is obviously a concern that demands our attention (and perhaps, eventually, military action).

As Steve Soto puts it at The Left Coaster, however, "we can’t do anything about [Iran] at this time" -- at least not what we should do, at least not what we could have done back in 2001.

See also All Things Beautiful, The Glittering Eye, and Publius Pundit.

My last post on Iran is here.

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No, al-Zawahiri was not among the dead

CNN: "Ayman al-Zawahiri -- Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in the al Qaeda terrorist network -- was not killed in a CIA airstrike on a remote Pakistani village, according to a Pakistani intelligence official."

Still, 18 people were killed. But I suppose that doesn't matter, does it? I mean, what value do 18 anonymous Pakistanis have? It's not like they have mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, right? I mean, this is war, right? The so-called war on terror. And Zawahiri's a key target. So let's just keep on bombing the crap out of faraway villages, shall we? I mean, what are a few innocent victims? Okay, what are thousands of innocent victims?

That's me being sarcastic, by the way. Is it any wonder Pakistanis are a bit miffed?

Well done, CIA. You're doing wonders for America's reputation in the world. Not to mention for America's alleged commitment to the sanctity of human life.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

The imaginary leadership of George W. Bush

At Slate, John Dickerson explains why Bush is open to the idea of Congressional hearings on his (illegal) domestic spying program. No, it has nothing to do with uncovering the truth. And no, such hearings wouldn't, as Bush claims, be "good for democracy". Rather, Bush wants to sidestep the unpopularity of his disastrous war in Iraq and attempt to boost his sagging presidency by turning the discussion, and national attention, back to 9/11 and terrorism -- where Americans have yet fully to grasp his utter incompetence and lack of real (as opposed to imagined, rhetoric-driven, lie-based) leadership.

If Bush can effectively tap the mood of those fearful days after 9/11, he'll once again try to use America's darkest day for a purely partisan purpose, that is, for mythologizing himself as a tough, courageous war president even as he vilifies his opponents as somehow weak and soft and not at all patriotic enough.

Hence the hearings: "He's inviting Democrats to another round of self-immolation." More: "While Democrats are often confusing, with too many leaders and no clear message to push back against the commander in chief, the president is passionate when he talks about fighting terrorists, and a majority of voters still approve of his handling of the issue. And because the spying program was initiated soon after 9/11, it offers Bush an opportunity to discuss his more popular days as a take-charge executive after the 2001 attacks."

But Dickerson is right: This isn't 2001 anymore. Democrats were defeated soundly on terrorism in 2002 because the country trusted Bush in the shadow of 9/11 and rewarded his party in the midterm elections. But 2006 isn't 2002. Bush may try to turn the country's attention back to 9/11, but he has lost the confidence of many Americans who were willing to support him in a time of uncertainty by pursuing his diversionary war in Iraq and more generally by proving himself to be a truly incompetent president. Americans won't look the other way this time.


For more, see:

Political Animal: "All this is by way of saying that although Democrats would like the 2006 election to be about Jack Abramoff and Republican corruption, the White House still has something to say about that. George Bush is going to do his best to keep national security front and center, and Democrats had better have a more crowd-pleasing answer on this subject than they did in 2002 and 2004."

Hullabaloo: "The politics are very different now than they were in 2002. This country is no longer in thrall to a president with an 80% approval rating. Iraq is a huge drag, the Republicans' credibility is in shreds because of it --- and the Abramoff scandal just reinforces the whole ugly mess. The man with the bullhorn is now seen as the man with the bullshit to around 60% of voters."

Pandagon: "I have no desire to live in denial about political prospects and ramifications, but I do think it is important to note, that the metrics have changed, both in terms of the presidents popularity, and I suspect, the urgency with which Americans feel toward terrorism. Also the Democrats do have a stronger political argument, provided they make it in a unified and coherent fashion. If Democrats had to have a plan for Iraq, like Kerry had to in 2004, there would be cause for concern. But I don’t think they do. Certainly not one single unified plan. And otherwise there are, indeed, a lot of differences between congressional investigations of domestic wiretaps and the possible fallout therefrom, and the muddled debate on arcane policy matters concerning the Department of Homeland Security. The Democrats will be on the offensive against a weakened president, as opposed to whatever it was they were doing when Bush was at the summit of his powers.

See also The Carpetbagger Report, The Mahablog, and TAPPED.

If you check out these posts, you'll find a friendly debate among some of the best of my fellow liberal bloggers. But I would say that they're all right -- in part. Times have changed, as Digby stresses, and the Democrats are now in a much better position to challenge the president's handling of national security and foreign policy. But, as Kevin suggests, Bush will do everything he can to spin national security and foreign policy in his favour and to force Democrats into a defensive posture. Times have changed, and Republicans deserve to lose, but it's still up to Democrats to stand firm and to provide Americans with good reasons to vote for them, that is, with a compelling alternative to Republican leadership.

This is no time for complacency.

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Al Qaeda's #2, al-Zawahiri, may be dead

At CNN, David Ensor is reporting that a CIA airstrike on a building in a remote Pakistani village near the Afghan border may have killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's long-time friend and doctor, and one of the key planners of 9/11.

Obviously, the report awaits official confirmation -- one way or the other.

For now, I think Juan Cole has it right:

I am going to hold off any comment about the possibility of Zawahiri being dead. There have been other strikes in the Pakistani tribal regions against supposedly big fish of al-Qaeda that have turned out to be no such thing. This time the leaks seem also to come from Washington counter-terrorism sources, so maybe there is something to them. On the other hand, the US intelligence people may have decided that Zawahiri has been making too much noise and that starting a rumor that he may have been killed will hurt his charisma at least in the short term.

This world is murky.

It is indeed.

Al Qaeda, and Islamist terrorism generally, will continue with or without Zawahiri. And, as a martyr, he could be even more dangerous dead than alive. But surely he as much as anyone is someone we could do without. Let's hope the report is true.

See also The Counterterrorism Blog and In the Bullpen.

Needless to say, more to follow.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Meet the harlequin frog, another victim of climate change

This is getting worse and worse. And more and more shameful. The polar bear is a victim of climate change, as we have seen, and now The New York Times is reporting this:

Scientists studying a fast-dwindling genus of colorful harlequin frogs on misty mountainsides in Central and South America are reporting today that global warming is combining with a spreading fungus to kill off many species.

The researchers implicate global warming, as opposed to local variations in temperature or other conditions. Their conclusion is based on their finding that patterns of fungus outbreaks and extinctions in widely dispersed patches of habitat were synchronized in a way that could not be explained by chance.

If the analysis holds up, it will be the first to link recent climate changes to the spread of a fungus lethal to frogs and salamanders and their kin. The chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has devastated amphibian communities in many parts of the world over the last several decades.

To be fair, "experts on amphibian disease and ecology are divided over the finding". However, something is clearly wrong in the tropical world of the harlequin frog, where "two-thirds of [more than 110 species] have vanished since the 1980's". Quite likely a sign that "warming caused by human activity [is] disrupting ecology".

Surely the harlequin frog deserves better. And certainly we humans should be doing better to halt our destructive behaviour.

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Californians challenge so-called Intelligent Design

From the L.A. Times: "A group of parents in the small Tehachapi mountain community of Lebec on Tuesday filed the first lawsuit challenging the teaching of 'intelligent design' in a California public school."

Those parents have my undivided support. And as a student of philosophy, albeit political philosophy, I find the attempt to teach ID as philosophy utterly reprehensible. Somewhere, Socrates's screams are echoing around the cave.

For more, see The Carpetbagger Report, Pharyngula, and a guy who knows a thing or two about California politics, Calpundit himself, Kevin Drum at Political Animal.

My last post on ID, with links to all my previous ones, is here.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Scalitovision 2006: A troubling nominee?

So says Jonathan Turley in USA Today:

Despite my agreement with Alito on many issues, I believe that he would be a dangerous addition to the court in already dangerous times for our constitutional system. Alito's cases reveal an almost reflexive vote in favor of government, a preference based not on some overriding principle but an overriding party.

In my years as an academic and a litigator, I have rarely seen the equal of Alito's bias in favor of the government. To put it bluntly, when it comes to reviewing government abuse, Samuel Alito is an empty robe.

Which might very well be more than enough for Democrats to oppose his nomination. To put it simply, Alito may be the wrong man at the wrong time.


Good reads:

-- The Left Coaster: "Alito, Day Two: A Liar Or An Incompetent"
-- Crooks and Liars: "Democrats cannot meekly accept defeat on Alito"
-- Demagogue: "Where Alito's Explanation Doesn't Provide Cover"
-- Lean Left: "Alito and Teaching Donkeys to Sing"
-- The Heretik: "Forgettable Sam"
-- TAPPED: "More Fatalism"

The Carpetbagger Report is a great place to turn for commentary on the hearings and other matters Alito-related. Yesterday there were five posts, including "Bork made this easier" (see here): "The problem is how to fight a nominee -- possibly with a filibuster -- who's steering clear of Bork-like lunacy. Dems went into the hearings vowing to challenge the nomination based on Alito's responses to questions, as if to say, 'We'll look for the rope in his responses.' Surprise, surprise, Alito isn't playing along. Alito deserves to be defeated; I'm open to suggestions as to how to make that happen."

Plus, Kevin Drum asks a key question: "Subtle arguments about the nature of stare decisis and the precise extent of the president's Article II powers just aren't going to get very many people ready to take to the streets with pitchforks. So what's the battle cry?"

I'm also open to suggestions and would love to hear the battle cry.

But who will lead the charge?

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Syria -- Iraq -- Holy War

This, according to Paul Bremer, via Britain's right-leaning Telegraph: "President Bashar al-Assad of Syria secretly incited Iraq's top Shia leader to declare holy war against US and British forces... The revelation that Syria's leader was trying to stoke unrest inside Iraq goes some way to explaining Washington's unrelenting hostility towards the Damascus regime ever since."

If true, which it may very well be, this revelation shows that Assad's Syria is indeed more of a threat to American and Middle Eastern security than we have been led to believe. Assad's regime is reprehensible on many levels, and has been since long before the Iraq War, but there does now seem to be even more substantial justification for America's hostility towards Syria over the course of that war.

If, that is, Bremer is right.

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Canada poised for Conservative majority

Well, it was the lead story in Tuesday's Toronto Star. According to the latest EKOS Research Associates poll for the Star and La Presse, the Conservatives are now in majority territory: "The EKOS survey of 1,240 Canadians through the weekend and yesterday found 39.1 per cent support for the Conservatives. The Liberals had 26.8 per cent support; the NDP 16.2 per cent; the Bloc Québécois 12.6 per cent; and Green party 4.6 per cent."

Of course, it all depends on how the election plays out on a riding-by-riding basis, but this recent surge of popularity -- if real, if sustained -- could lead to an outcome that only a couple of weeks ago seemed, well, unfathomable: a Conservative majority government led by (gasp!) Prime Minister Stephen Harper. If the surge is expanded, we could be looking at 1984 all over again, when Brian Mulroney's Conservatives ended two decades of almost continuous Liberal dominance with a landslide victory over John Turner's Liberals.

I'm not yet convinced, however. The Liberals have begun their ramped-up campaign to discredit Harper and to frighten voters away from the Conservatives. It worked in 2004 and it may yet work again. My tendencies are with the Liberals, and I may end up voting for my local Liberal candidate (for whom I don't much care) in a close race against a high-profile NDP candidate. But the Liberals, much like the Republicans, play dirty very, very well, and it's all quite distasteful.

There are now less than two weeks left before the election, but these polls can be deceiving. It's possible that voters will look at these poll numbers and conclude that it's finally safe to vote Conservative despite Liberal admonitions to the contrary. But it's also possible that voters will look at them and conclude that the impossible has become possible, that they could wake up on the morning of the 24th with a Conservative government and (gasp!) Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That might just stir them enough to vote Liberal once again.

I know it's already stirring me.

Don't count out the Liberals yet.

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The blogging of The Blue State

As many of you know, Crooks and Liars is one of the most important blogs going, not least because it offers so much must-see video. I wanted to mention, however, that my friend Todd Haskins's blog The Blue State now provides a lot of good video, too, alongside some consistently excellent commentary on the major political stories of the day.

Two great sites. Enjoy.

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The blogging of The Garlic

One of the funniest -- and, in its distinctive way, hard-hitting -- blogs out there: The Garlic, by my friend J. Thomas Duffy.

Check it out.

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Does Sam Brownback hate America?

Well, he disapproves of Bush's domestic spying program. Doesn't that make him one of America's enemies?

(From Florida Blues.)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A nation divided: Abortion in post-Roe America

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte looks at the Republican fascination with abortion and what could happen if Roe is overturned. As you'll see on the map at her post, it's likely that quite a few states -- red states, mostly -- would ban abortion.

But I do wonder just how far state legislatures would go. Abortion would no doubt be banned in heavily anti-abortion states, such as Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah, but I suspect that more moderate states would only go so far as to restrict access to and the availability of abortion. For example, I can't quite see Michigan and Wisconsin banning it outright. Most states would either keep it legal or apply minimal restrictions (as in Pennsylvania already).

I still think that Democrats would benefit from the overturning of Roe insofar as the Republicans would finally be exposed for what many of them are, which is rabidly and unapologetically anti-choice -- but is that a risk worth taking?

I suspect not. America -- and American women -- would hardly benefit from such bitter divisions.

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Scalitovision 2006: The hearings commence

It's been over two months since the two installments of Scalitovision 2005:

At the time, I also called for a civilized debate on the Alito nomination -- see here. I'm all for that still, whatever my growing reservations regarding Alito's suitability for the Court, and I'll have more on the hearings, including wide-ranging round-ups of reaction from around the blogosphere, as we go on.

But here, to get us started, is a characteristically thoughtful articulation of the problem with such hearings from Kevin Drum at Political Animal: "In a remarkable evolution of democracy, we have now entered an era in which candidates for the Supreme Court are allowed to glide through their hearings without once giving a straight answer about anything having to do with the laws or constitution of the United States. After all, Supreme Court justices might conceivably rule on anything in the future. It's yet another sign that the separation of powers envisioned by the founders has slowly morphed into a de facto parliamentary system — except without any of the institutional means of accountability normally built into a parliamentary system. Someday Congress is going to regret that."

Hopefully that day will come sooner rather than later. For now, Democrats -- and responsible Americans generally -- should demand straight answers from this nominee. There may be good reason to vote against the nomination given those answers, but there is certainly good reason to vote against it without them.

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The extremist inanity of Justice Sunday III

And the extremist inanity of much of the religious right, the ideological zealotry that gives all religion a bad name.

From The Washington Post: "Republicans and leaders of the religious right gathered in a black church [in Philadelphia] Sunday night to build support for Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. as part of their effort to block gay marriage, end abortion and restore religious expression in the public square."

The Carpetbagger Report has a rundown of some of the more inane comments at J. S. 3 from the likes of Rick Santorum and Jerry Falwell.

Secularism rarely seems so appealing as it does when this is what passes for religious expression.

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Flame-retardant polar bears

We've already established here at The Reaction that polar bears are victims of climate change. But did you know that they're also victims of flame retardants?

Yes, here's another great addition to the history of environmental pollution and, more broadly, of humanity's willful destruction of the natural environment for the sake of short-sighted self-aggrandizement: "Already imperiled by melting ice and a brew of toxic chemicals, polar bears throughout the Arctic, particularly in remote dens near the North Pole, face an additional threat as flame retardants originating largely in the United States are building up in their bodies, according to an international team of wildlife scientists."

Sure, they're on those semi-cute Coke commercials, not to mention on the cans themselves. But what havoc we wreak.

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The rules of space tourism

The FAA is on the job: "The public interest is served by creating a clear legal, regulatory, and safety regime for commercial human spaceflight."

Nothing else. Just an interesting story.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Bomb found at San Francisco Starbucks

According to the Chronicle: "About 100 people were evacuated today and traffic on two busy San Francisco thoroughfares was rerouted after a Starbucks employee found a homemade bomb in a restroom."

No word if it was a grande or a venti.

(I know, it's a serious matter. At least no one was hurt. Think of all the lattes that would have been ruined.)


Speaking of Starbucks, here (via Slate) is how you can rip off the coffee giant and acquire a more satisfying cappuccino in the process.

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Conservatives surge ahead of Liberals with two weeks to go

On the Canadian election:

Just last Thursday I noted that the Conservatives had pulled to within just a couple of percentage points of the Liberals in a major tracking poll.

The Conservatives have since surged ahead. A new poll conducted by the Strategic Counsel for CTV and The Globe and Mail has the Conservatives up by eight percentage points, 37 to 29. The New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois lag behind at 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

The election is two weeks from today, January 23.


As one reader rightly pointed out (see comments section here), Canada's electoral system -- Single-Member Plurality, otherwise known as "first-past-the-post," the system used for elections to Westminster in the United Kingdom and for federal and state elections in the United States -- rewards parties on a riding-by-riding basis, not proportionally according to the popular vote.

In any given riding, a candidate only needs to win the most votes to be elected, at least one more vote than the second-place candidate regardless of how many candidates are running. That is, he or she only needs to receive a plurality (as opposed to a majority) of the vote to be elected.

What this means is that overall popular vote isn't much of a guide, if a guide at all, to electoral success, which in our system depends on the total number of ridings (or seats) won. It is common for a party to receive a majority of seats, and hence to form the government, with far less than a majority of the popular vote, sometimes with less than 40 percent of the popular vote.

For a riding-by-riding analysis/prediction of the upcoming Canadian election, see the Election Prediction Project here. The EPP has the Liberals ahead of the Conservatives 85 to 73 (in terms of seats), with the Bloc at 51 and the New Democrats at 14. However, 85 ridings are too close to call (including my own).

An English-language leaders' debate tonight could shake things up -- see here for a preview.

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Steelers 31, Bengals 17


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Partisans, a love story: The convenient friendship of George Bush and Tom DeLay

Here's a good read with which to begin your week:

At Time, Matthew Cooper and Mike Allen explore the complex relationship between President Bush and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

A few of the more interesting passages (along with my commentary)

-- "Even before DeLay's announcement that he would abdicate his leadership post,... the President's inner circle always treated DeLay as a necessary burden. He may have had an unmatched grip on the House and Washington lobbyists, but DeLay is not the kind of guy -- in background and temperament -- the President feels comfortable with."

If nothing else, that certainly speaks in Bush's favour, does it not?

-- "Although DeLay's forfeiture of his leadership post makes things easier for the White House, the Abramoff saga will continue to be a problem. Bracing for the worst, Administration officials obtained from the Secret Service a list of all the times Abramoff entered the White House complex, and they scrambled to determine the reason for each visit. Bush aides are also trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together."

It's called historical revisionism, the rewriting of history for ideological purposes. The Soviets were particularly good at it. So, of course, is the Bush Administration.

-- "Republican officials say they are so worried about the Abramoff problem that they are now inclined to stoke a fight with Democrats over the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in an effort to turn the page from the lobbying investigation."

It's called wagging the dog. There should be a fight over Alito, but Democrats (and the media) need to keep their focus on all the different balls in play. Don't let Bush manipulate the narrative of his own presidency.


For more, see The Raw Story, Firedoglake, Think Progress, Shakespeare's Sister, Booman Tribune, The Heretik, and MyDD (a post by fellow TMV co-blogger Jonathan Singer).

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Louisiana delegation to study Dutch flood-control systems

A few months ago, I posted on floating houses in the Netherlands -- literally, amphibious houses that rise and fall with the rivers upon which they float, a visionary project undertaken in a land that lies below sea level.

Well, post-Katrina, a Louisiana delegation led by Sen. Mary Landrieu is preparing to study Dutch flood-control systems, including dams, sea walls, and surge barriers. Obviously, there's a lot to learn.

Better late than never.

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Jaws in Australia

From the BBC: "An Australian woman from Brisbane has been killed in a shark attack at a popular beach near the city." Police believe that a group of perhaps three sharks was involved in the attack.

On a related note, I watched some of the original Jaws on TV last night. Still a great movie. And a terrifying one.

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