Saturday, April 22, 2006

Scenes of protest in Nepal

It's not a major story here in North America, but the political crisis in Nepal -- marked by pro-democracy protests in Kathmandu, a clampdown by state police, and King Gyanendra'a promise to restore democracy -- continues.

You can find a historical timeline here and background to recent events here: "The latest turmoil in Nepal has its roots in the decision by King Gyanendra to sack his government and assume direct powers back in February 2005. The move came after a long period of political upheaval and amid a bloody campaign by Maoist rebels." You can find a profile of the king here and of the Maoist rebels here. It should be noted that the pro-democracy movement, the movement behind the protests, is being led by a coalition of seven opposition parties, not the Maoist rebels (although last year the opposition parties and the rebels reached an agreement on the need to end Gyanendra's autocratic rule, if not the monarchy generally). You can find the text of the king's speech here.

Here's the latest from the BBC:

Nepalese police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters who tried to march on King Gyanendra's palace in Kathmandu.

Hospital officials say at least 150 people were injured as about 100,000 Nepalis defied a curfew and security cordons to march into the capital.

The clashes came a day after the king offered to restore democracy.

Protesters rejected his offer as inadequate and the opposition declined his call to form an interim government.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators began heading towards central Kathmandu early on Saturday, ignoring an eight-hour, shoot-on-sight curfew.

"We want a republic, We don't want the king any more," the crowds chanted.

They brushed past police and army lines before reaching an inner cordon where soldiers in armoured vehicles and long lines of riot police held firm.

I'll have more on this ongoing story as it becomes available. In the meantime, here are some photos:

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Prominent Catholic leader defends limited condom use

It's not much, but it's something. And, for what it is, it's awfully important:

One of the Roman Catholic Church's most distinguished cardinals has publicly backed the use of condoms among married couples to prevent Aids transmission.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said that in couples where one had HIV/Aids, which could pass to the partner, the use of condoms was "a lesser evil".

The Vatican says condoms should never be used, even to stop Aids spreading from one married partner to another.

Given the Church's historical opposition to the use of contraception without exception, this is a huge step in the right direction. However, Martini, formerly the Archbishop of Milan, is one of the more "progressive" members of the College of Cardinals and doesn't speak for the Vatican (although he was one of the leading papabili, if generally considered too old and too liberal at the time -- subsequent reports have suggested that he was one of Ratzinger's chief rivals in the conclave). And I doubt we're about to hear anything similar from Ratzinger-B16.

Still, kudos to Cardinal Martini.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Execution & Co.

By Creature

Why do we want to be in this company? From Reuters:

China, Iran, Saudi, US main executioners: Amnesty
More than 2,000 people were known to have been executed around the world last year, the vast majority of them in China, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

Maybe one day we will join the civilized nations of this world and stop allowing our government the power to kill its citizens. You are judged by the company you keep.

"The death penalty is the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights, because it contravenes the essence of human values, it is often applied in a discriminatory manner, follows unfair trials or is applied for political reasons," Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan said in a statement.

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Survivor White House

By Creature

Through AMERICAblog, CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer weighs in on the latest episode of Survivor White House:

Schieffer said he wasn't sure that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, under fire for his handling of the war in Iraq, would endure much longer [on the island*]. He didn't put much stock in President Bush's recent declaration of support for Rumsfeld.

With all due respect to Mr. Schieffer, I believe he is wrong. I think Rummy is staying on the island, and here is why -- he has a secret alliance with Dick. Don't tell George. George thinks the deal is to get himself, Dick, and Karl to the final three. Silly George, he still thinks Rummy is the next to go. He doesn't yet know Dick and Rummy have picked Karl as the next to be booted. Dick has the power in this tribe. The man has had immunity for years now. Not a press conference held, nor an act accounted for; the guy knows how to play the game. I just wish I could be at tribal counsel when George figures out he has been played. Karl, the tribe has spoken. This game will come down to the jury.

And if you don't believe my secret alliance theory, here is former Survivor, Larry Wilkerson, with an inside view:

IN PRESIDENT BUSH'S first term, some of the most important decisions about U.S. national security — including vital decisions about postwar Iraq — were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Who will take home the million dollar prize (well, in this case, I guess the bounty is in the billions)? The smart bet would be Dick. He is the Richard Hatch of Survivor White House.**

*Bob Schieffer did not say "on the island," hopefully no real clarification was necessary, but just in case.
**For those of you at home that immediately pictured Dick naked due to my Richard Hatch analogy, I am sincerely sorry.
***And for those of you who don't watch Survivor, sorry if this stuff went over your head, but seriously why aren't you watching? Jeez.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The sweet life of New York's super-rich

David H. Koch, the executive vice president of Koch Industries, is the 33rd richest person in the world, according to Forbes. His estimated net worth stands at roughly $12 billion. In 1994, Mr. Koch bought Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, the entire 15th floor of the building, for $9.5 million. He and his wife, Julia, renovated it at an estimated cost of $5-10 million.

But, alas, as The New York Times reports, the times they are a-changin' in the Koch household. Julia is expecting their third child. And, well, "Ms. Onassis' former apartment will be too small for their expanded family. 'There's just no way we could fit another child in that apartment,' [Mr. Koch] said."

That's for sure. "The Fifth Avenue apartment has four bedrooms, two dressing rooms, a staff room, a library, living room, dining room, conservatory, two terraces, three fireplaces, five and a half bathrooms and a wine room." How could a family of five -- two humble parents and three small children -- possibly fit into that?

So the old apartment is now on the market for the lowly sum of $32 million and the Koches have bought a new apartment, a new home, at 740 Park Avenue for the even lowlier sum of $18 million. "It's time to move to a bigger space to accommodate the larger family," [Mr. Koch] said. The new apartment, a duplex, "has about double the space".

Does that mean eight bedrooms, six fireplaces, eleven bathrooms, and two wine rooms? Or is everything just a whole lot bigger?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an anti-elitist. I don't necessarily begrudge the wealthy their wealth. And I know -- and I admit -- that I've been fortunate enough to enjoy luxuries that most people will never ever get to enjoy.

One just wonders in amazement at the casualness of it all, at the apparent lack of awareness of what real life is really like. Poverty is everywhere and yet the super-rich -- the Koches at least, nothing against them personally -- worry about how to fit their family into a $32 million dollar apartment. Most people worry about trying to put food on the table, about trying to pay the bills on time, about trying to get out of all that suffocating debt, about trying to raise their kids in a dangerous and uncertain world.

Most people just try to find some semblance of peace and contentment in their lives. The super-rich no doubt aim for peace and contentment, too, but at least they can do so in their own wine room, or in a cozy little conservatory, or on a terrace overlooking Central Park...

Tough life, eh?

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yes, it's time to talk to Iran

"Is it time to talk to Iran?" I asked yesterday. Yes, says Slate's Fred Kaplan. And so does Kevin Drum, who thinks (based on some compelling background) that Iran may be prepared to negotiate:

[Q]uit letting Cheney's crackpots run foreign policy and talk to Iran. After all, the administration's ideologues killed an opportunity to ratchet down tensions three years ago, and since then things have only gotten worse: Iran has elected a wingnut president, they've made progress on nuclear enrichment, gained considerable influence in Iraq, and increased their global economic leverage as oil supplies have gotten tighter. So why blow another chance? If the talks fail, then they fail. But what possible reason can there be to refuse to even discuss things with Iran — unless you're trying to leave no alternative to war?

Kevin is absolutely right. (Make sure to read his post in full.) The problem is, leaving no alternative but war "may well be the Bush administration's strategy". Which leaves us where? Hoping against hope that a peaceful solution can be found? Hoping against hope that Bush gets it? I mean, just imagine what war with Iran would look like. Even just a airstrikes on Iran's known nuclear facilities (the unknown ones may be more trouble).

Yes, by all means, talk to Iran!

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Transparent trickery

From Jason Leopold at Truthout: "Just as the news broke Wednesday about Scott McClellan resigning as White House press secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove shedding some of his policy duties, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case and introduced additional evidence against Rove, attorneys and other US officials close to the investigation said."

Coincidence? Uh, surely not. This White House knows what it's doing. The big "overhaul" (Rove down, McClellan out) -- for more, see here -- could have been announced anytime. Earlier in the week, next week, whenever. Did it have to be yesterday? Of course. The Magicians of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue know that timing matters. In fact, all political operatives do. It's just that it's so fucking transparent with these guys, so fucking obvious. Yet, transparent or not, obvious or not, the media took the bait. And they're still talking about it, making a story out of a non-story, something out of nothing.

Alright, let's move onto something else...

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The walrus was Paul

From the world of Beatles memorabilia, another clue for you all:

A John Lennon schoolbook containing an illustration of a walrus has been sold at auction for £126,500.

Featuring the 12-year-old Lennon's drawing of Lewis Carroll's poem The Walrus and the Carpenter, the book had been expected to reach up to £150,000.

The poem inspired Lennon to write The Beatles' 1967 song I Am the Walrus.

The book of the late Beatle's early thoughts, drawings and poems, was sold to a private collector in an auction of pop memorabilia in London.

Very cool.

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The illegal immigration dilemma

Our friend and guest blogger Sean Aqui of Midtopia has written an excellent post on "how to manage illegal immigration" -- see here. It's definitely worth a careful read, both for the overview of the current debate and for the sincere, sensible effort to come up with a solution ("[a] rational, humane policy") to the problem.

Check it out.

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Victory to Prodi (confirmed)

From the BBC:

Italy's supreme court has ruled Romano Prodi the country's election winner, after the result was challenged by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi made no comment after the ruling, but his aides said he was still refusing to concede.

The court confirmed a narrow win for centre-left opposition leader Mr Prodi, nine days after polls closed, after reviewing disputed ballots.

Give it up, Silvio. Persistence in the face of undeniable fact is not a virtue, it's just pathetic. I mean, it's not like you won the popular vote or anything. Or that the disputed ballots were in the hands of one of your opponent's cronies. And it's not like a partisan court handed your opponent an illegitimate victory. No, your country handled things properly. And you lost. Period.)

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Does anyone feel sorry for Scott McClellan?

See you, Scottie. It hasn't been a pleasure. I look forward to ignoring your tell-nothing memoir. Although, to be fair, I do feel a little sorry for you. What must it be like to have to lie and deceive for a living? What must it be like to be the front-man for this despicable presidency? Are you good with that? Is your conscience clean? Do you have any regrets? Maybe breathing in the fresh air outside the West Wing will do you some good. Maybe truth will trump loyalty. Maybe one day you'll actually speak the truth. Or not. It's up to you. Just think things through a bit before you end up in a rocking chair next to your old boss. Is that really where you want to end up?

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The magicians of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (revisited)

Do you know what the biggest story in Washington is? Hint: It's also the biggest story in the American news media and the blogosphere (well, unless the recent arrival of Tomkitten is -- poor kid). And it's also the story the White House wants to be the biggest in Washington, the news media, and the blogosphere. In fact, it's a story completely manufactured by the White House -- by that collection of spinners and dodgers I've called The Magicians of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a non-story reported as the story of stories. And, yes, it has to do with the three men above: Dubya, Turd Blossom, and Scottie.

Seriously, just check out The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, MSNBC, and Time. Check out the BBC, for God's sake. It's everywhere. The Times calls it an "overhaul". Time calls it "visible, dramatic change". Well, you know what? It's neither. All that happened is that Scott McClellan stepped down as White House press secretary and Karl Rove was demoted... sort of... or not... it depends. He'll no longer be responsible for policy development, but he'll still be responsible for, well, everything else. Including policy. And politics. Turd Blossom is still Turd Blossom. Don't doubt it.

Yet the news media need a story. And this is it. The White House dished it up and they, even the biggest of them, lapped it all up. Forget Iraq, Iran, Rumsfeld, Libby, and all the other failures and scandals of this failure and scandal of a presidency. This is all about deflecting attention away from the real news, from what's really going on out there, by creating some protracted drama where there simply isn't any. George W. Bush may be one of the worst president in history, as a compelling piece in Rolling Stone suggests, but they, the magicians, only want you to think that Bush is at the head of some "visible, dramatic change". Don't doubt that this was the plan all along.

There's been some change, and it's been visible, but it's hardly dramatic. In fact, given that the life expectancy of White House press secretaries is rather short to begin with and that Turd Blossom will still be pulling the strings, this hardly amounts to anything, if to anything at all.

Yet I, too, have just wasted valuable time and energy on this non-story. Shame on me, perhaps, just as long as the joke isn't on me. Unfortunately, the joke is on the news media and on many of our finest bloggers. And the magicians are laughing. They've gotten so much wrong, but they still know how to push all the right buttons.


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Is it time to talk to Iran?

Our must-read of the day comes from Fred Kaplan, who argues in Slate that now is the time to talk directly to Iran about its nuclear program, "not as an act of appeasement but as a hard-headed security calculation".

Consider: "Bush should commence direct talks with Iran not because they offer a hopeful chance for peace and good will, but because they're a necessary prelude to an international campaign of economic pressure—and because more drastic military pressure would likely backfire. There are two likely outcomes from serious American efforts to negotiate, both good. First, if Iran cooperates with the talks, then it might suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Second, if Iran doesn't cooperate, then the Bush administration will have made its case to China, Russia, and Europe that the regime is dangerous and untrustworthy. At that point it will be much easier to impose the economic sanctions that will scare the Iranians into better behavior."

Economic pressure -- the threat of enforceable sanctions, if not actual sanctions -- seems to be the way to go. As Kaplan puts it, "[t]he one thing that Iran's leaders genuinely seem to fear is economic sanctions," and it's possible, now that it's "nuclear," that Iran might "make a deal". But the U.S., which doesn't trade with Iran anyway, needs the E.U., Russia, and China on board. The E.U. may support sanctions of some kind, but Russia and China don't -- and likely won't until and unless all other avenues short of military intervention have been pursued. Given that a military strike would come with enormous repercussions, it does seem to be in America's best interests to proceed seriously to the bargaining table. Iran may not give in, but why not make the effort?


Update: According to Reuters, "The United States on Tuesday failed to secure international support for targeted sanctions against Iran and President George W. Bush refused to rule out nuclear strikes if diplomacy failed to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions." Come again? "Asked if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush said: 'All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so.'" Are you? Well, that's good. I'm sure we can all trust you to do the right thing. Especially with your finger on the button.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq II

(Part I is here.)

So the Bush Administration may be planning an all-out offensive in Baghdad for later this year. But what is life in Baghdad like right now? The right -- Bush and his cronies and apologists, including many in the blogosphere -- would like us to believe that all is going well aside for some media-hyped sectarian violence. If only. The truth is rather more unsettling:

Snipers held rooftop positions as masked Sunni Arab insurgents said they were gearing up for another open street battle with pro-government Shi'ite militiamen in Baghdad's Adhamiya district on Tuesday.

The Arab Sunni stronghold is still feeling ripples from overnight clashes on Monday that appeared to be the closest yet to all-out sectarian fighting.

It's a reality that has Washington scrambling to avert civil war as Iraqi politicians struggle to form a government four months after parliamentary elections.

A U.S. military spokesman said 50 insurgents attacked Iraqi forces in the middle of the night in a seven-hour battle that killed five rebels and wounded an Iraqi soldier.

Fighting was so fierce that U.S. reinforcements were brought in to the northern district, home to some of Iraq's most hardcore Sunni guerrillas and the Abu Hanifa mosque, near where Saddam Hussein was last seen in public before going into hiding.

Sporadic fighting continued on Tuesday...

While the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine pushed Iraq to the edge of civil war and left hundreds of bodies with bullet holes and torture marks on the streets, the scenario in Adhamiya is more alarming, despite fewer casualties.

It appeared to be the first example of a large-scale, open sectarian street battle in the capital, if not all of Iraq.

Just another day in Baghdad? Maybe not. Things seem to be getting worse. Maybe that's the new normal.

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Qatar and Hamas

Just in case you were wondering about the politics of Doha, ABC News is reporting this: "Qatar said Monday it would give the Palestinian government $50 million in aid to help make up for a shortfall after the United States and the European Union cut off funding." Need some perspective? Consider this: "On Sunday, Iran said it was sending the same amount of money to the Palestinians to help fund the Hamas-led government."

All together now: Qatar, Iran, Hamas.

Nice, eh?

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Pulitzers for freedom and democracy

I congratulate this year's Pulitzer Prize winners. But I also congratulate the Pulitzer board for singling out important stories pertaining to the abuse of power that now the defining characteristic of the White House and the Republican leadership in Washington: the NSA spying program, foreign CIA prisons, the Abramoff scandal, and the Duke Cunningham bribery case. As Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post put it: "Strikingly, the Pulitzer board honored two reports -- on the secret prisons and domestic surveillance -- that President Bush personally urged the editors not to publish."

I should note, too, that The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) won two Pulitzers for its incredible coverage of Hurricane Katrina. It was truly phenomenal journalism.


Also see Glenn Greenwald's response to Bill Bennett and other conservatives who think that James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who won a Pulitzer for their "disclosure of the President's illegal NSA eavesdropping program" in The New York Times, belong in jail. As usual, Greenwald's right on the mark.

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Paradise of lost souls

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

There’s a certain amount of comfort we take in knowing that our elected officials are intelligent people, able to handle the enormous task of running our government and executing our foreign policy, and we rest assured knowing that they work for us, are accountable to us, can be fired by us, and must work within the confines of our Constitution that ensures one branch of government has oversight authority over the other two. At least we used to be able to take comfort in those things. Not so much anymore.

It’s flabbergasting that this administration has declared it need not be accountable to anyone. It’s downright disgusting that Congress hasn’t felt the need to disagree, let alone disabuse them of such a radical notion. Each morning, many of us expect to wake up to more reports of abuses of power as well as justifications for those abuses, usually courtesy of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It’s hard to think of a single thing, however outrageous, that this administration won’t do, “Bush Nukes Iran” (without Congressional approval of course) is only the most recent nightmare headline that many of us fully expect to wake up to one day soon.

Bush has an approval rating of around 35%, and the Republican led Congress is down around 23% approval, yet here we are, and our only option seems to be waiting around until November when we hope the balance of power will shift, at least a little bit. It’s hard to know what to do, vent about how little democracy we have left or cheerlead for change. The only problem is, there’s no one to cheer for other than the beaten down Americans who are working harder for less money and going into personal debt even faster than our country, but short of an uprising, what leverage do we really have? Only half of us vote, and the ones who benefit the most from Republican tax breaks, have a better turnout percentage than those of us who don’t, and that’s a very sad truth. The good news is, there are many more of us than there are of them, but far too many of us are too tired, too disenchanted, too overworked to get worked up about elections. If we can change that, we can change the direction of our country.

The reality of how far we have fallen as a country, and just how much work it will take to bring us back can be overwhelming. Just imagine what it would be like (most likely, if you’re reading this, you’ll have to) working two minimum wage jobs, just to put food on the table. It certainly wouldn’t leave much time to worry about politics. There is a rampant assumption that non-voters suffer from apathy, and that may be true of some, but the 30 million people in this country trying to survive on minimum wage, without health insurance or decent schools for their kids, one missed day of work away from being homeless, most likely don’t vote in greater numbers because making it to the polls doesn’t even rank in the top ten things to worry about on election day, for most of them, a day like any other.

While the news is bad on just about every front, a raised debt ceiling, a stagnant economy that may or may not be on the brink of total collapse, more poverty, more homeless, more death and destruction in Iraq, the looming possibility of yet another war with Iran, there still seem to be signs that we are nearing the end. Apparently Tony Blair cancelled a trip to the U.S., just to avoid being photographed with Bush, and here in Washington State, Congressman Dave Reichert was happy to take money from a fundraiser featuring Dick Cheney, but he refused to go on stage to avoid the photographic evidence of his complicity in the damage this administration has caused. Bush is the stinky sock that no one wants to pick up, the sulfur smell that no one wants to be blamed for or tainted by. Surely that’s an indication that the shine has come off, and we can only hope that his influence will soon dull as well. I guess it’s enough to get us through another day. Paradise it isn’t, but the end of this hell is a bright speck on the horizon, at least I hope that’s what it is.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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By Creature

The GOP gets back on message by confronting the tough issues that face America today. From the Associated Press:

Protection of marriage amendment? Check. Anti-flag burning legislation? Check. New abortion limits? Check.

Between now and the November elections, Republicans are penciling in plans to take action on social issues important to religious conservatives, the foundation of the GOP base, as they defend their congressional majority.

Go GOP, go! Way to kiss a little wedge-issue-ass before November. I guess confronting issues like national security, the deficit, and healthcare just doesn't do it for you guys. You need a nice round of hate and intolerance to get your base going. The smart money says that the 37% that still have high GOP hopes is your base, and if they haven't switched over to the sane side by now, they never will. I hope the small-minded tour you are about to embark on, backfires. I hope it solidifies the rest of us, to kick you all out of office in November. Then, maybe, we can bring tolerance, equal rights, and sanity back to this nation.

Read more, and this time, really do. It's an eye-opening, pulse-quickening, and little-nauseating experience..

(Um... and, Hillary, if you are out there, please try to pander-less to the flag-burning crowd. It's a little unbecoming.)

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Monday, April 17, 2006

You have been used

By Creature

Bob Herbert successfully connects the dots between 9/11, the Moussaoui trial, and Iraq. Here is a bit of Bob that I managed to free from behind the kryptonite-laden wall that is TimesSelect:

It is time for the American people to wise up. From the very beginning, the so-called war on terror was viewed by the Bush crowd as a magical smoke screen, a political gift from the gods that could be endlessly manipulated to justify all kinds of policies and behavior — including the senseless war in Iraq — that otherwise would never have been tolerated by the American people.

The tapes of people trapped in the World Trade Center, and the cockpit recording of the panic and final struggles from United Airlines Flight 93, which was also played at Moussaoui's sentencing trial last week, are chilling reminders that the fear of terror attacks inside the U.S. is based very much on reality.

That fear, and the patriotism felt by so many millions of Americans, have been systematically exploited by the administration. The invasion of Iraq was not about terror. It was about oil and schoolboy fantasies of empire and whatever weird oedipal dynamics were at work in the Bush family. [Emphasis Added]

America you have been used. America you have been abused. It's been one long trailer-park nightmare, with George Bush in his wife-beater T having his way with you. You can deny all you want, but soon you must wake up. It's time to call the cops, get out of the trailer, and dump this guy. The world is waiting.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Moscow welcomes porcine Olympians

How great is this?

From the BBC: "The third annual 'Pig Olympics' have been held in Russia where the pigs might not have flown but they did show their prowess in several activities. Some 12 piglets from seven countries took part in the games, which included pig-racing, pig-swimming and pigball." There's even a Sport-Pig Federation! Who knew?

Just a happy story on this long weekend. Happy Easter. Happy Passover. I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

The next Battle of Baghdad

It looks like the Iraq War could take another dramatic turn later this year. The Sunday Times is reporting this:

THE American military is planning a “second liberation of Baghdad” to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed...

The battle for Baghdad is expected to entail a “carrot-and-stick” approach, offering the beleaguered population protection from sectarian violence in exchange for rooting out insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda.

Sources close to the Pentagon said Iraqi forces would take the lead, supported by American air power, special operations, intelligence, embedded officers and back-up troops.

If at first you don't succeed, try again. But at what cost? With the loss of how many more lives? The invasion of Iraq was swift, but the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq has been -- let's be blunt about it -- a failure. And now there's this, which smacks of desperation. Of course, there will be endless spin about how the Iraqis are taking charge and establishing order, about how the new government is finally ready to govern on its own, about how the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces are taking the lead, allowing the U.S. to pull back, about how the job has been done, mission accomplished.

And we know what this is really about: "[Bush and Rumsfeld] are under intense pressure to prove to the American public that Iraq is not slipping into anarchy and civil war. An effective military campaign could provide the White House with a bounce in the polls before the mid-term congressional elections in November. With Bush’s approval ratings below 40%, the vote is shaping up to be a Republican rout."

Regardless, this is all far too little far too late. Baghdad isn't Fallujah or some remote Iraqi town, and it won't be pacified easily (not that Fallujah was or even has been). Given both Bush's personal unpopularity and the unpopularity of the Iraq War generally, Americans won't stand for a prolonged, agonizing battle that could go terribly wrong, a battle that will have to be fought neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood, house-by-house, a battle that would likely be extremely bloody.

A full-out Battle of Baghdad could work. Repeat: could. But a lot would have to go right, and I'm just not sure that it can or will. Do we have any reason to have so much confidence in the Iraqi forces? Do we have any reason to believe that U.S. forces will be able to conduct such an extensive campaign with public and political support at home? Given all that's happened thus far, do we have any reason to believe that Baghdad can be pacified at all? The U.S. may try to hide behind the Iraqis, but no one will be so delusional as to think that the U.S. isn't calling the shots. So couldn't a U.S.-propelled campaign to pacify Baghdad only stir up even more opposition?

How much is Bush willing to sacrifice, how many lives is he willing to risk, both American and Iraqi, for the sake of his own political life, for the sake of his own popularity and legacy? Is he willing to wage a full-out Battle of Baghdad as a last-ditch effort to resurrect his presidency and to prevent massive Republican losses this fall?

Consider that political calculus.

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The revolt against Rumsfeld

In today's Washington Post, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke argues that "[t]he calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951".

Predictably, Bush has defended Rumsfeld, but Holbrooke contends that the case for replacing him is "overwhelming". Truman was right then, the generals are right now. The U.S. simply cannot deal properly and effectively with the ongoing situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor with the emerging crisis in Iran, nor with the war on terror more broadly, nor with whatever other global hotspots may require military involvement of some kind, such as Darfur, under the cloud of such an obvious lack of confidence in the Pentagon's civilian leadership.

Rumsfeld certainly isn't the only one to blame for what's gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his departure wouldn't solve any of these problems, not with his own boss still in office.

But it'd be a start.

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