Friday, January 20, 2006

We all need something to look forward to...

The Carpetbagger Report reminds us that the presidency of George W. Bush will end exactly three years from today -- January 20, 2009. (Unless it ends sooner, of course.)


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Michael Moore on Canada (eh?)

Michael Moore has issued a statement on the Canadian election. It begins: "Oh, Canada -- you're not really going to elect a Conservative majority on Monday, are you? That's a joke, right?"

Well, no. At least, I'm not laughing.

For my most recent analysis of the Canadian election, scroll down a few posts or click here.

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Scalitovision 2006: To filibuster or not to filibuster?

Want a good reason to oppose Alito's nomination, even to filibuster it? Here's Dahlia Lithwick at Slate.

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What to do about Iran?

Recently I asked: Whither Iran? (see here)

Now Reaction favourite Fred Kaplan of Slate is asking: How do you solve a problem like Ahmadinejad? (see here)

Not easily, he concludes. So he offers a challenge:

So, here's the big question: If diplomacy is the only rational solution to this problem yet the Iranians just want nukes—in other words, if there is no deal (or at least no deal that the United States would realistically offer) that would compel them to give up their dream—what's the next step?

At this point, I must confess: I don't know. Neither, it seems, does anybody else. So, dear Slate readers, do you have any great ideas? Send them to me. I'll print — and publicly mull over — the best of them.

Needless to say, I don't know either. Diplomacy? Military action? More specifically: What will the European powers do? How will Israel respond? What is there for America to do? Kaplan: "But what if diplomacy fails? What if the Security Council approves some form of sanctions? What if the Europeans and even the Chinese brave the risk that Iran cuts back—or cuts off—their oil supplies? What if, after all this, Iran continues to enrich uranium?"

All good questions. All without good answers. Let Kaplan know what you think -- and, as always, feel free to add your comments here, too.

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Canadian election campaign enters final weekend

Some observations going into the final weekend before Monday's election:

The latest Strategic Counsel poll for CTV and The Globe and Mail (which, admittedly, is just one of a number of major polls) shows the gap between the Conservatives and Liberals narrowing after the Conservatives had built up a substantial double-digit lead. On Jan. 17, the Conservatives were up on the Liberals 42 percent to 24 percent, an 18-point spread. Since then, the Conservatives have fallen to 37 percent while the Liberals have risen to 28 percent, a 9-point spread.

The other three "major" parties, the New Democrats, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Greens, have remained relatively consistent since the start of the campaign. The New Democrats, Canada's socialist party, has tried to bill itself as the only real alternative to an anticipated Conservative government, and there has been some concern among Liberals about defections of progressive supporters of the Liberals to the New Democrats, but they haven't been able to rise above a ceiling of 17 percent. They currently stand at 16 percent. The Liberals will need to pull over both New Democrats and Conservatives, as well as attract most of the independent and undecided voters (and there are many, even at this late hour), if they hope to narrow the gap any further and have any chance of pulling a last-minute comeback or even of holding the Conservatives to a minority of seats in the House of Commons.


Is it possible that American conservatives are keeping quiet so as not to remind Canadian voters that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is one of them? See here.


The turning point in the election campaign seemed to come on or about Jan. 4. The Liberals had been in the lead until then, but the Conservatives pulled even on Jan. 4 and started to pull away on Jan. 6. It's not yet clear to me why this happened. We'll likely have to wait for the post mortem to learn just how the Conservatives turned the tables on the Liberals. But it does seem that the Liberal campaign stalled at or around that time and has only in the last couple of days emerged from its slumber and, upon waking, frantic desperation. Prime Minister Martin is finally, it seems, on message, articulating a liberal-progressive vision of and for Canada that goes all the way back to Prime Minister Pearson's (and Martin's father's) Liberal Party of the mid-'60s. He likely won't succeed -- this is all far too little far too late -- but Martin's shift to the left places him in stark contrast to the Canada of his opponent.

Apathy will likely keep voter turnout low, a key to a Conservative victory -- Conservative support is soft, and a Conservative victory depends on a lack of enthusiasm for the Liberals even from its traditional supporters). The Liberals are using negative campaigning (Harper = Bush) to stir up fear and loathing for the Conservatives, especially among traditional Liberals (many of whom, like the author of The Reaction, were thinking of sitting on their hands and looking elsewhere on election day) and "new" Canadians (recent immigrant communities tend to be solidly Liberal).


In the key Toronto riding of Etobicoke--Lakeshore, usually a fairly safe Liberal seat, celebrity-candidate Michael Ignatieff, the academic bigwig dropped in straight from Harvard, may be in trouble. The president of the local Liberal riding association has come out in support of his Conservative rival.


From the Toronto Star: "Ontario is the final battle site in the federal election and it's turning into an epic Liberal-Conservative fight over sex, politics and religion."


The Star also wonders if the religious right will set Harper's agenda. See here. I say no, but a Prime Minister Harper would have a hard time holding back the populist, western-based right flank of his party. It was that large element of the Conservative Party that was behind the founding of the Reform Party back in the '90s. Reform eventually merged with the old Progressive Conservatives, the traditional party of Canadian conservatism, to form today's Conservative Party, but the Reformers, long out of the mainstream of federal politics and motivated by alienation from the power centers in central Canada, are clearly itching to govern -- and to steer Canada towards economic neo-liberalism, social conservatism, decentralization, and possibly a break-up of our federal system.

And then there are the quasi-neocons in Ontario.

How long will the old Progressive Conservatives (or Red Tories, as they're often called) put up with the rule of the Reformers? Will Harper be able to hold his coalition together?

Canadians may be willing to give Harper a chance, perhaps a probationary period with a slim majority (although a minority is more likely), but do they even know what this Conservative Party stands for? From the Globe: "Liberal Leader Paul Martin is accusing Conservative rival Stephen Harper of keeping his socially conservative candidates out of the public eye." Hardly a surprise, if true (which I think it is).

As they say: caveat emptor. Harper isn't Bush, but do we really want Stephen Harper's Canada?

I'm leaning more and more towards the Liberals.

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The blogging of Greg Prince

I first encountered Greg as one of the two contributors to Uncorrelated. He's still there, but he's also set up his own eponymous blog, and I encourage you to check it out here.

Greg is moderate in both political and temperamental terms, perhaps slightly to the left of center but certainly no ideologue, and he provides solid, sober commentary on a variety of topics. Both of his blogs are highly recommended.

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Osama speaks

In case you missed it, Osama bin Laden (or at least a voice attributed to him) has warned of further attacks on the U.S. and offered the U.S. a long-term truce.

Aljazeera has the story here. The BBC has the full transcript here.

How odd. A threat and an offer of peace? Although, peace in return for Iraq and Afghanistan (which isn't much of an offer, given that there's no way the U.S. would ever agree -- surely Osama knows that).

Fore more, see Crooks and Liars, The Moderate Voice, The Carpetbagger Report, The Mahablog, Ezra Klein, The Next Hurrah, The Heretik, and The Counterterrorism Blog.

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More on the Pakistan bombing

Click here or scroll down to the next post for my take on whether or not the bombing of that Pakistani village was justified -- and on the key question of what an appropriate threshold for justification would be.

There is no easy answer. I still tend to agree with Kevin Drum that in this case the attack was justified. However, there are obviously compelling arguments on the other side, and one response I recommend highly is by Bob Geiger, who "can't get around the feeling that Americans somehow believe we have the right to commit actions against other countries that we would consider acts of war if done to us". On this we agree.

See also Shakespeare's Sister, who links to me (and to my friend Carla at Preemptive Karma) and makes some excellent points.

Needless to say, this is a tough one.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Bombing Pakistan: Was the attack justified?

Remember that CIA bombing of a remote Pakistani village last week? The one that killed 18 Pakistanis, but not Ayman al-Zawahiri? Well, it looks like at least one really bad guy was among the dead:

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda's master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week's U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan.

Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of Damadola early last Friday morning.

The United States had posted a $5 million reward for Mursi's capture. He is described by authorities as the man who ran al Qaeda's infamous Derunta training camp in Afghanistan, where he used dogs and other animals as subjects for experiments with poison and chemicals. His explosives training manual is still regarded as the bible for al Qaeda terrorists around the world.

Before I learned of this news I was critical of the bombing. Well, not so much critical of as saddened by. Al-Zawahiri is a huge target, and I wholeheartedly support efforts to capture or kill him, but he wasn't there and 18 Pakistanis were killed. 18 innocent Pakistanis, I thought. At least most of them.

Look at it this way: We are saddened by the deaths of 12 coal miners in West Virginia, and rightly so. In most cases, we are saddened by the loss of a single human life, so highly do we as a society value human life. Yet our sadness seems to be proportional to our proximity to the death. The deaths in Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Katrina were nearer to us, and hence sadder, than the deaths of many more thousands in Asia following the tsunami at the end of 2004. And the death of, say, a friend or a close family member is much more immediate to us than, say, the deaths of 18 faceless, nameless Pakistanis in some village on the other side of the planet.

We may value human life, and we may consider ourselves to be humanitarians, but the love of one's own is much stronger than the love of humanity generally. Which is why the death of someone close to us is sadder than the death of someone far from us. Sadder in relative terms, sadder in terms of our particular perspective. Each human life may be equally valuable, but we do place more value on those lives that our closer to us, that are our own. That is, my life, my family, my friends, my neighbours, even my countrymen.

This seems to be a truth about the human condition, rooted deeply in human nature. If you doubt it, think of a child's connection to its mother, or a mother's to her child, or a brother's to his sister, and so on. This is why, to an American, an American life is more valuable, and the loss of it sadder, than a Pakistani life. And this is why the deaths of 18 Pakistanis in some remote village seem almost unreal. They happened on TV, if at all, and we don't witness the suffering of their loved ones, the mourning at their graves.

Which leads me to an interesting post by Kevin Drum:

For the sake of argument, let's assume that we had pretty good intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders were in the house we bombed. And let's also assume that we did indeed kill al-Masri and several other major al-Qaeda leaders. Finally, let's assume that the 18 civilians killed in the attack were genuinely innocent bystanders with no connection to terrorists.

Question: Under those assumptions, was the attack justified? I think the answer is pretty plainly yes, but I'd sure like to see the liberal blogosphere discuss it. And for those who answer no, I'm curious: under what circumstances would such an attack be justified?

An important question, to be sure. And what is the answer? I encourage you to come up with your own. For whatever the realities of the war on terror and the inevitable loss of civilian life, this is a profoundly personal issue that comes down to this: What means are justified by the end (the end of the war on terror, the end according to your own personal perspective of the war on terror)? How many deaths are worth it?

If you don't support the war on terror, or if you think that the U.S. is some unjust imperial power, then obviously the answer must be that no deaths are worth it, that all such killing is a crime, that the attack was not justified.

But most of us support the war on terror, at least in part. Most of us understand that terrorism, the terrorism of al Qaeda and its ilk, is a serious threat to our security, that is, to ourselves and our loved ones, our friends and our neighbours, our countries and our ways of life. But how far are we willing to go in waging that war? Are we willing to accept the torture of prisoners? Are we willing to invade sovereign countries? Are we willing to risk the lives of our men and women in the armed forces? Are we willing to bomb remote Pakistani villages?

I've repeatedly said no to torture. And on this: I suppose I must agree with Kevin. Yes, the attack was justified. But I come only sadly and reluctantly to that conclusion. If -- and the ifs here are very important -- if "major al Qaeda leaders" were killed, and if the military did everything it could to minimize civilian casualties, then, yes, the attack was justified.

But allow me to posit that as my preliminary answer to the question. Blogging may seem a bit like pontificating, but I need to think about this a good deal more before I come to any definite conclusion (which there may not be). And I would certainly like to hear what all of you have to say.

Was the attack justified? If not, what is your threshold for justification?

These are profoundly important questions. And we must try to answer them.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hamas enters the TV business

Here's an interesting (and rather troubling) story from the BBC (from last week):

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has launched a new TV station to spread the organisation's message.

Named al-Aqsa after the mosque in Jerusalem, the Gaza-based channel plans to air programmes on political and social ideas drawn from the Koran.

The group aims to expand the TV operation significantly and hopes to enter satellite broadcasting.

Hamas is already a major political force among the Palestinians. So why not try to become a major media player? After all, look what FOX News has done for the Republicans.

(Cue laughter.)

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Democrats and the independent voter

Are Democrats losing independent voters? Joe Gandelman responds to an e-mail from a reader calling him "a ventriloquest for George Bush" here. As one of Joe's co-bloggers at The Moderate Voice, I've been attacked for being too liberal (well, for being a liberal). Of course, being attacked by one's opponents comes with the territory -- with political blogging, that is. And it's all too easy to think that one irate reader represents more than just a sliver of a vocal minority.

But it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? I've been attacked from all across the spectrum, from the far left to the far right. I take that to mean I'm doing something positive out here.

One other point: I agree with Joe that there is extremism on both sides. Obviously, though, Republicans, including the current occupant of the Oval Office, have done a good deal to lose not just independent voters but voters of all political persuasions. And things aren't going to get any better in '06, not with the GOP gearing up for the midterm elections in November by getting ready to pounce on the Democrats with a profoundly negative campaign.

Democrats need to be ready themselves. Hopefully without alienating the independent voter.

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Mayhem in Mongolia

By the way, as we at The Reaction seek to bring you the news from all around the world, here's the latest from Mongolia -- which, if you hadn't heard, is currently experiencing a fairly serious political crisis:

Hundreds of Mongolians have held fresh protests in the capital Ulan Bator as the country's largest party, the MPRP, began work on forming a new government.

The political crisis has triggered demonstrations against corruption and growing inequality. Crowds on Monday demanded the president resign.

The crisis began last week when the MPRP pulled out of a coalition that had governed since 2004.

As the organizers of a recent rally put it: "Dawn has broken in Mongolia. We are getting poorer every day and corrupt officials are getting richer. Now is the time to take action."

May the force be with them. (Seriously.)

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Women on the rise in Chile and Liberia

All around the world...

As I mentioned just over a month ago, the Chilean presidential election went to a run-off between Michelle Bachelet, a former political prisoner under Pinochet and the candidate for the center-left Concertacion bloc, and Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire running for the center-right opposition.

In case you missed it, Bachelet won the run-off election with almost 54 percent of the vote.

The Washington Post ran a highly misleading article calling Bachelet a socialist (and indicating that the White House had called to offer its congratulations). Is she? Here's the more balanced L.A. Times again: "The election of Bachelet and the defeat of her conservative opponent is the latest in a series of votes that have shifted the region's politics. But Bachelet's coalition differs markedly from leftist administrations in the rest of South America. Chile staunchly supports market-based trade policies, and its status as a major U.S. ally is not expected to change, analysts say."

In short, Bachelet is no Morales and Chile is no Bolivia (and certainly no Chavez/Venezuela)-- see here for more on Bolivia. Indeed, what has Bachelet said so far? That, according to the BBC, she'll name a cabinet with an equal number of men and women, improve relations with Peru and Bolivia, and continue to support the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Hardly the stuff of leftist fanaticism.


Meanwhile, in Liberia, according to CNN: "Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been sworn in as Liberia's new president, becoming Africa's first elected female head of state and vowing to lead the country away from its turbulent past."


Progress indeed in a former Latin American dictatorship and an African country recently mired in chaos and civil war.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Ray Nagin is insane

Remember Ray Nagin? New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? For a picture of him with President Bush, see here. For more on his response to Hurricane Katrina, see here and here.

Well, he may or may not have deserved blame for what went wrong in his city after Katrina -- and I think he deserved some of the blame -- but now... well, he seems to have lost his mind:

Mayor Ray Nagin suggested Monday that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms were a sign that "God is mad at America" and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting.

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin, who is black, said as he and other city leaders marked Martin Luther King Day.

"Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."

Nagin also promised that New Orleans will be a "chocolate" city again. Many of the city's black neighborhoods were heavily damaged by Katrina.

"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans -- the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans," the mayor said. "This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

Okay, he makes a couple of acceptable points ("being in Iraq under false pretenses," "time for us to rebuild New Orleans"), and maybe, just maybe, black America isn't taking care of itself properly, but: "God is mad at America"? God punished America? New Orleans should be "chocolate"?

Ray Nagin... meet Pat Robertson, who is also insane. The two of you have a lot in common. (And that's not a compliment.)


For a view from the right, see my friend Sister Toldjah.

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Martin Luther King on Vietnam (and Iraq)

The incomparable Juan Cole has a fascinating post -- "10 Things Martin Luther King Would have Done about Iraq" -- over at Informed Comment.

Check it out.

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The brawl on Ipanema

Fun in the sun on Rio's most famous beach:

Police arrested three men on Monday following a massive brawl that terrified beachgoers on Rio's famous Ipanema beach.

The brawl, involving some 50 people armed with sticks or swinging tables and chairs, lasted about 15 minutes and caused panic among sunbathers on the crowded beach late Sunday afternoon, police said.

Police said the fighting apparently broke out between rival groups from two different shantytowns.

Viva Brasil!

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Steelers 21, Colts 18


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