Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sao Paolo rocked by gang violence

Horrible news from one of the largest cities in the world, reported by the BBC: "At least 30 people, including 19 policemen, have been killed in a spate of attacks in Sao Paulo, Brazil."

The attacks, carried out by the so-called First Command of the Capital (PCC) gang, may have been a response to a transfer of prison inmates. Police officers were targeted: "The assailants used machine-guns and grenades. In one incident a home-made bomb was thrown into a police station." The attacks were "followed by jail revolts, with 100 hostages being taken."

Click on the link above for all the details. MSNBC (from the AP) has more here.

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Bush's "creepy mission creep"

Speaking of NewsHog (see previous post), our friend Cernig has put up an excellent post on what he calls "the Bush administration's alarming policy of deliberate mission creep" -- see here.

He describes this "creep" as follows: "[G]ive them an inch and they will take as many miles as they can and do so as secretly as they can."

I concur. Check it out.

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Bush fatigue hits the right

Conservative Stephen Bainbridge is suffering from it. And he explains why here.

I disagree strongly with the good professor's assessment of the Democratic Party, but it's nice to see a leading conservative blogger -- one I genuinely like -- list some of the many failures of the Bush presidency and acknowledge that he's had enough.

(Tip: NewsHog.)

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Planting spy stories

By Creature

Is the Bush administration planting stories in the media, the American media, to help shape public opinion on domestic spying?

Last night, before hitting the hay, I read how I was "going to be shocked" by the upcoming testimony former NSA staffer Russell Tice. This, thanks to Think Progress:

A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. … [Emphasis Added]

Okay, so my interested was piqued. Like, oh my god, I can't believe we are in for more revelations. And, even though my outrage meter was pretty much pushing maximum, I was ready to be even more outraged than I had been over the "biggest database ever" revelations. But wait, this morning I read that I have nothing to be outraged about. It seems the super secret spy agency, that I assume Mr. Tice was going to expose, just outed themselves, with a feel good story no less, to the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - A little-known spy agency that analyzes imagery taken from the skies has been spending significantly more time watching U.S. soil.

In an era when other intelligence agencies try to hide those operations, the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, is proud of that domestic mission.

He said the work the agency did after hurricanes Rita and Katrina was the best he'd seen an intelligence agency do in his 42 years in the spy business.

"This was kind of a direct payback to the taxpayers for the investment made in this agency over the years, even though in its original design it was intended for foreign intelligence purposes," Clapper said in a Thursday interview with The Associated Press.

How sweet, the touchy-feely spooks helped with Rita and Katrina, and the America people got payback from their spy satellite 401K. Thankfully, at least they only used their spy satellite in a warm fuzzy way that helped the people through a disaster. Right? Well, Gen. Clapper hints at a few other uses, but, of course, they are totally innocuous uses.

On Clapper's watch of the last five years, his agency has found ways to expand its mission to help prepare security at Super Bowls and political conventions or deal with natural disasters, such as hurricanes and forest fires.

With help, the agency can also zoom in. Its officials cooperate with private groups, such as hotel security, to get access to footage of a lobby or ballroom. That video can then be linked with mapping and graphical data to help secure events or take action, if a hostage situation or other catastrophe happens.

This super-secret satellite spying agency helped with security at political conventions? Well, you can bet there are a whole lot of detailed photos of peaceful protesters stored somewhere. But wait, it's okay because Gen. Clapper assures us that he would never ask Congress to expand the agencies power and that the program "doesn't really affect or threaten anyone's privacy or civil liberties when you are looking at a large collective area." Great, I feel so much better.

Now, people of the blogosphere, tell me this story did not come out today, tell me that this story was not planted in the media, as an attempt to soften the blow we are about to endure when Russell Tice gives his "shocking" testimony to the Senate next week. Whether it is a "push" poll in the WaPo, or this warm and fuzzy spy leak story from the Associated Press, the Bush administration is out there aggressively "framing" public opinion so the American people will give them a free pass, and keep their criminal asses out of jail.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, May 12, 2006

New highly-enriched uranium traces discovered in Iran

According to Reuters, "U.N. inspectors have discovered new traces of highly-enriched uranium on nuclear equipment in Iran, deepening suspicions Tehran may still be concealing the full extent of its atomic enrichment program". The samples were taken from "a former research center at Lavizan-Shiyan". The center has since been "razed".

The discovery suggests that there may indeed be a secret, military-related Iranian nuclear program "alongside the one [Iran] has declared" (the Lavizan center "advised the defense ministry").

I do not take back my recent assertion that there may yet be room for negotiation to resolve this escalating crisis, but clearly there is now additional cause for concern. After all, as Ed Morrissey determines, "the Iranians have weapons-grade uranium somewhere".

Well, maybe. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. As with previous discoveries of highly-enriched uranium in Iran, there could be another explanation ("contamination on second-hand Pakistani equipment," for example). Although we are running out of time, we need to know more about Iran's nuclear program, about Lavizan, about its military component.

By all means, talk to Iran. Negotiate in good faith. But don't give Ahmadinejad the benefit of the doubt. There's still a long way to go before Iran will have earned our trust.

If it ever will.

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Bush's approval rating sinks below 30 percent

A new Harris Interactive poll puts President Bush's approval rating at a measly 29 percent. The WSJ has the story here. See also here.

Polls don't tell the whole story, of course, and I generally try not to make too much of them, but it's quite significant, if only symbolically, that Bush has fallen below the 30 percent level, at least in one major poll.

Like father, like son, like Nixon. How low can he possibly go?

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Rove to be indicted for perjury (and maybe more)

Jason Leopold of Truthout is reporting that Karl Rove "will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him". Sources reveal that he has already told President Bush and Chief of Staff Bolten. Rove will apparently "be charged with perjury regarding when he was asked how and when he discovered that covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the agency, and whether he discussed her job with reporters".

This could turn out to be "the biggest political scandal [the White House] has faced thus far". Perjury is bad enough, not least since this case is all about who knew what when and who leaked what when, not to mention whether there was a White House campaign to punish Joseph Wilson by "outing" his wife, but there could be more: "Sources close to the case said there is a strong chance Rove will also face an additional charge of obstruction of justice, adding that Fitzgerald has been working meticulously over the past few months to build an obstruction case against Rove because it 'carries more weight' in a jury trial and is considered a more serious crime.

I wonder how the White House spin machine will spin this...

And, for his part, would Rove ever pull a Libby and turn on his superiors? Would he give them up to save himself? Would he sacrifice loyalty for the sake of narrow self-interest? I'm already looking forward to the trial.

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The spying of America

The biggest story in the blogosphere at the moment is, of course, the latest revelation, reported in USA Today, that the NSA "has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth".

Make sure to read the entire article, but this is what it's all about: "The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database."

We're now talking about "domestic call records," about communication between and among people in the U.S. The NSA now has "a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans". More: "The domestic and international call-tracking programs have things in common, according to the sources. Both are being conducted without warrants and without the approval of the FISA court."

This is bad, to be sure, but here's my question: Does this really surprise anyone?

It shouldn't. Bush is waging his war on terror with frighteningly expansive presidential powers. In the case of the NSA eavesdropping program, he is waging it illegally.

Surely we all suspected that the spying didn't stop at international communication. Surely we all knew, prior to this confirmation, that Bush's America was spying on Americans themselves.


We'll have more on this over the next few days, but, for now, you can find many helpful links at Memeorandum.

There are too many good posts to mention out in the blogosphere, but let me single out Unclaimed Territory, The Carpetbagger Report, The Moderate Voice, The Mahablog, Firedoglake, Balkinization, The Left Coaster, David Corn, Taylor Marsh, The Anonymous Liberal, TalkLeft, Pacific Views, Shakespeare's Sister, Obsidian Wings, NewsHog, Majikthise, Midtopia, In Search of Utopia, and Lean Left.

I'm leaving many out, but not intentionally. Go and have a look for yourself.

Do not ignore this story. Do not let them do this to you.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mark June 9 on your calendars

That's the day Tom DeLay is set to resign from Congress.

The Raw Story has The Hammer's resignation letter here.

On June 9, make a toast to American democracy. It should do better without DeLay around to drag it down into the morass of partisanship and corruption.

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So why did Michael Luttig resign?

Luttig's own resignation letter refers to "sheer serendipity". It was "a particular privilege to serve on the court" after 9/11. Since then, "the court has been asked to address some of the most complex and far-reaching legal issues of our day". Indeed, Luttig says, he has "loved every single aspect and every single moment of [his] service".

But the Boeing offer "is a singular opportunity". Boeing itself is "an American icon". Boeing's new CEO, James McNerney, "is one of the most impressive business leaders in America," its management team "one of the most talented in the country". Plus, Boeing plays a "central role" in "the Nation's defense and security," a role "distinctively imbued with the public trust". Being at Boeing will "permit" Luttig "to continue in a form of service to the country". Indeed, "Boeing may well be the only company in America for which [he] would have ever considered leaving the court".

Resigning from the federal bench and taking the job with Boeing "is the right decision for [him] at this time, and, most importantly, for [his] family, "to whom [he owes his] highest obligation". After all, his two children will soon be going off to college.

There's much to pick apart here.

Luttig's reverence for Boeing seems excessive. Who is he trying to convince of Boeing's greatness? Himself? His family? His fellow judges? President Bush? Boeing's management team? Boeing's shareholders?

Does he really owe his "highest obligation" to his family? What about his country? His god? The law? I'll leave that to his conscience. If indeed his "highest obligation" is to his family, that's fine, but, once more, this seems excessive. Why mention, after all, that his children will soon be "college age"? Doesn't a parent face less obligation once his or her children go off to college? Or is he more worried about the cost of sending two children to college? He'll be making much more money at Boeing than on the federal bench, after all. If this is about money, at least in part, that's fine, too. But then he obviously has a personal interest in reaching out to shareholders and trying to boost Boeing's stock.

This is all personal for Luttig and, cynicism aside, the move to Boeing is likely a great opportunity for him. But let's move on to another point: Has Luttig honestly "loved every single aspect and every single moment of [his] service"? And does he honestly "wish [Bush] every success during the remainder of [his] Administration"?

Luttig is a conservative and likely a Republican. His keen interest in post-9/11 national security indicates a certain fondness for Bush's conduct of the war on terror, both at home and abroad. And yet -- and here we get to the heart of this post -- could it be that Luttig's resignation has something to do with the Bush Administration's handling of the Jose Padilla case? The Wall Street Journal thinks so.

Generally speaking, Luttig was on Bush's side early on in the war on terror: "After 9/11, Judge Luttig agreed in several cases with the government's placement of the line between national security and civil liberties." For example: "He agreed that U.S.-born Yaser Hamdi, captured in Afghanistan, could be held as an enemy combatant." Last year he even agreed that could be held "without charge in a military brig". Indefinitely. "The decision" -- which you can find here -- "validated President Bush's claim that he could set aside... Padilla's constitutional rights in the name of national security." Padilla "was arrested in May 2002 when he arrived at [Chicago's] O'Hare International Airport from Pakistan". Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed that he was involved in "an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb,'" and he was held as an enemy combatant. Whatever the evidence, Luttig "assumed the government had a compelling reason to consider the suspect an extraordinary threat".

Padilla's detention was ruled "illegal" by two courts before the case went to Luttig. Ultimately, "Luttig delivered a coup: a unanimous opinion, written by himself, declaring that the president's powers to detain those he considered enemy combatants apply anywhere in the world, including the U.S." This was a far-reaching validation of Bush's conduct of the war on terror, not to mention of executive power generally.

But then -- things changed. In November of last year, the [A]dministration suddenly announced that it didn't consider... Padilla an enemy combatant any more and would charge him in a regular federal court". No more indefinite detention in a military brig as an enemy combatant. Luttig was not amused:

A person familiar with the judge's thinking says it's evident he felt the government had pulled "the carpet out from under him." In an interview yesterday, Judge Luttig said, "I thought that it was appropriate that the Supreme Court would have the final review of the case."

Attorney General Gonzales offered no explanation for the move, but critics accused the government of gaming the court system. By making the Supreme Court appeal moot, the government could avoid a possible reversal at the nation's highest court while preserving the favorable Fourth Circuit ruling.

Instead of granting what the government considered a pro forma request to transfer Mr. Padilla to civilian custody, Judge Luttig ordered the parties to submit arguments over the question. On Dec. 21, Judge Luttig delivered a judicial bombshell: a carefully worded order refusing to move Mr. Padilla until the Supreme Court decided what to do. The order all but accused the Bush administration of misconduct.

"The government's abrupt change in course" appeared designed "to avoid consideration of our decision by the Supreme Court," Judge Luttig wrote. The government's actions suggested that "Padilla may have been held for these years... by mistake" and, even worse, that the government's legal positions "can, in the end, yield to expediency." Such tactics, Judge Luttig warned, could exact a "substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts."

Now the Bush Administration wasn't amused:

A furious Bush [A]dministration asked the Supreme Court to overrule the Fourth Circuit. The ruling "second guesses and usurps both the president's commander-in-chief authority and the Executive's prosecutorial discretion in a manner inconsistent with bedrock principles of separation of powers," Mr. Clement, the solicitor general, wrote.

The Supreme Court agreed to let Mr. Padilla move -- he is now in a Miami jail -- but the administration's strategy of funneling war-powers cases to the Fourth Circuit was in tatters...

People familiar with Judge Luttig's thinking say he knew his condemnation of the administration would bring a personal cost but he believes that judges must apply the law regardless of its political implications. These people say he has been disillusioned by the encroachment of politics on the judiciary -- and the view that judges are on "our team" or "their team."

People close to the Bush administration see it differently. They dismiss Judge Luttig's opinion as a judicial tantrum, noting that it came after he was passed over three times for a Supreme Court position. President Bush nominated Judge Roberts, Harriet Miers (who withdrew) and Judge Samuel Alito.

So why did Michael Luttig resign? Was there "a breakdown of trust" between Luttig and Bush? In other words, had one of Bush's staunchest allies and defenders, a "star" of the conservative judiciary, finally had enough? Did he finally see, in the Padilla case, just what Bush and the war on terror are all about? It would seem that this is a very likely possibility, but it's not what the White House spin machine wants you to believe. After all, the White House is already swift-boating Luttig. As Jason Zengerle puts it at The Plank, the latest White House spin -- spun by "some in the Bush [A]dministration" -- is that Luttig resigned "because of sour grapes over his not being picked for the Supreme Court".

There may be a number of different reasons for Luttig's resignation. Maybe he really does like Boeing, maybe he really thinks this is a great opportunity for his family, maybe he really is upset that Bush tapped Roberts, Miers, and Alito for the Supreme Court, and maybe the "clash" with Bush really did persuade him that it was time to go.

What matters here, beyond Luttig's personal life and Boeing's fortunes, is that Luttig of all judges clamped down on one of the gross excesses of Bush's conduct of the war on terror. Luttig was willing to grant Bush an enormous amount of latitude, but, in the Padilla case, Bush simply went too far even for Luttig. That says something.

Just as it says something that the White House wants nothing to do with Luttig's blatant dissent. There doesn't yet seem to be formal campaign to smear Luttig, but the smearing has begun nonetheless. And such smearing, as we know so well by now, is as typical of this White House as Bush's seemingly limitless attempts to expand presidential power, undo the checks and balances that lie at the foundation of American governance, and wage a nebulous war on terror by trampling all over the Constitution.

Luttig is off to Boeing, a dissenter departed, but Bush's misconduct goes on.

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Another Iranian "olive branch" goes public

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush has largely been rejected as unhelpful posturing, but a second and likely far more important letter, one that opens the door a crack to negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, has emerged. Here's Time:

[A] second document, written by a top Iranian official and given to TIME just before Ahmadinejad's letter was made public, offers a more concrete foundation for negotiations to resolve the nuclear impasse. In the two-page memorandum, intended for publication in the West, Hassan Rohani, representative of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, on the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, defends Iran's nuclear posture, decries American bullying, and puts forward a plan to remove the nuclear issue from the U.N. Security Council and return it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, a long-standing Iranian goal.

The letter also offers some specific Iranian starting points for negotiation. Rohani said Iran would "consider ratifying the Additional Protocol, which provides for intrusive and snap inspections," and that it would also "address the question of preventing 'break-out'" -- or abandonment of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Independent nuclear experts consulted by TIME said these proposals were "hopeful" signs.

However, on the key U.S. demand that Iran forgo uranium enrichment on its own soil, because of international fears the process would permit Tehran to develop weapons-grade fissile material, Rohani said Iran would agree only "to negotiate with the IAEA and states concerned about the scope and timing of its industrial-scale uranium enrichment." And while Rohani promised that "Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on enrichment limit of reactor grade uranium" on Iranian territory, that would not meet the concerns of the U.S. and most of its European allies.

Rohani also pledged that "Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on the production of UF6 -- uranium hexafluoride, which is used for enrichment." Finally, Rohani promised that "Iran and the IAEA would agree on terms of the continuous presence of inspectors in Iran to verify credibly that no diversion takes place."

Rohani, a "moderate," does not necessarily speak for Ahmadinejad, who ousted him last year, but "his views carry weight". Indeed, his letter shows that there are in fact influential Iranian moderates who reject Ahmadinejad's hard-line approach (even if they also reject "American bullying").

More to the point, Rohani's letter shows that there may very well be room for negotiation, for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to this escalating crisis. Given the potentially disastrous consequences of military action against Iran, not to mention the fact that such action might not even be effective at destroying Iran's nuclear program (let alone thwarting its long-term nuclear ambitions), I have previously argued -- see
here and here -- that it's time to talk to Tehran. Military action may indeed be necessary sometime down the road, but such action should only follow good-faith communication and, if possible, negotiation. If such diplomatic efforts fail, then at least the U.S. and its allies would be able to go to the international community having exhausted all options short of military action. Then, and perhaps only then, would U.N. sanctions and, beyond that, U.S.-led military action be considered legitimate responses to the crisis.

If the U.S. only responds to Ahmadinejad's nationalist bluster with its own incendiary rhetoric, or by ignoring Ahmadinejad altogether, all those undesirable outcomes -- an Iranian attack on Israel, Iranian intervention in Iraq, terrorist attacks against U.S. interests around the world, a hardening of relations between the U.S. and various Muslim states, a massive oil crisis, etc. -- will come to look more and more likely.

Talking may not work, but it's worth a shot.

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The foul mouth of Mary Cheney

AMERICAblog is reporting that Mary Cheney, daughter of Dick, called John Kerry a "son of a bitch" and referred to John Edwards as "total slime" during an interview with Diane Sawyer. She even mouthed something quite vile at Edwards during the 2004 vice presidential debate (actually, something her father had previously said to Patrick Leahy). She was apparently upset that they had referred to her sexual orientation.

As John puts it, though, "the reason Kerry and Edwards mentioned Mary's gayness is because George Bush decided to use gays as a, if not 'the,' political issue of the 2004 elections". Absolutely right. Democrats aren't united on the issue, say, of same-sex marriage, but they don't exploit it for political gain the way Republicans do. Just look at how Republicans use it to mobilize the more bigoted elements of their base. It's same-sex marriage, but it's now also adoption.

All Mary Cheney shows is that profanity knows no bounds, including sexual orientation. But shouldn't she ask her father why his Rove-driven campaign mobilized bigotry in a battle for voter turnout? Shouldn't she ask her father's alleged boss the same question? Shouldn't she ask her beloved Republican Party why it insists on bashing gays and lesbians, why it includes bigots in its ranks, why it now resorts to blatant homophobia whenever its political fortunes are threatened, why it intends to use this as yet another wedge issue going forward into this fall's midterms?

Or would the answers hit a little too close to home?

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Luttig resigns

From the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. To Boeing, where he'll be senior vice president and general counsel. The Post has the story here.

Of all the leading candidates for a spot on the Supreme Court, the two now held by Roberts and Alito, Michael Luttig was one of my favourites. That may not be saying much -- I didn't exactly like many in the bunch, some of them right-wing activists and ideologues -- but Luttig had a lot going for him. Relatively speaking. I made the case for him here.

Elsewhere, Laura Rozen looks at Luttig's "thrashing" of the Bush Administration's handling of the Jose Padilla case here. Zoe Kentucky, in response to Luttig's likely pay increase and upcoming tuition payments, looks at the outrageous costs of higher education here. Orin Kerr finds it all quite astonishing here.

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A cause for cautious hope

By Creature

While I do get a sense of actual joy from watching the president's poll numbers fall from new low to new low (though not as much joy as a Yankees World Series win or a good episode of Scrubs can bring), it's sad that "a" president (as opposed to this president) has fucked up this country to the extent that these low numbers reflect. And, while I also have been optimistic --based on the poll numbers -- that the Democrats have a real chance of taking back the House (and maybe even the Senate) this November, it's a reserved optimism. We have been burned too many times not to be caution as November approaches. However, with that being said, this paragraph from a NYT piece (and it's a Nagourney piece, no less) regarding the GOP's falling poll numbers really stands as a cause for cautious hope.

By a margin of better than two to one, Democrats were seen as having more new ideas than Republicans. And half of respondents, the highest yet, said it was better when different parties control the two branches of government, reflecting one of the major arguments being laid out by Congressional Democrats in their bid to win back the House or Senate.

First, take note, that in the face of an overwhelming media meme that the Democrats have no plan, the fact that it's two to one in favor of the Democrats as the party of new ideas is astounding. The talking-heads for years now have been repeatedly asking "what's the Democrats' plan?" or "what have the Democrats done?" Both difficult questions to answer under one party rule. So, It's good to see the general public has not swallowed this meme, as they had the Saddam-9/11 one. A cause for cautious hope indeed.

Next, take note, that the general public seems to have learned a civics lesson over the last six years. It bodes well for the Democrats that half of the people polled recognize that it is better "when different parties control the two branches of government." The concept of checks and balances seems to be sinking in. Another cause for cautious hope indeed.

Hope more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Intelligence consumer

By Creature

This is a lie, this is spin, this is the way this administration continues to pass the buck over to the intelligence community for its own "cherry-picking" failures during its unstoppable march to a predetermined war. Here is Rumsfeld talking out his ass yesterday (and the emphasis is mine because these guys just suck):

Rumsfeld also commented on the mistaken intelligence that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, describing himself as a consumer of that product. "It turns out it was wrong, that intelligence," he said. But he said it was the same information that was available to members of Congress and other nations.

With the CIA in the news again due to the Goss firing resignation and ensuing "turf battles" and "power grabs" (which Rummy denies), this blame-the-intelligence spin has popped up once again. Now, I am no fan of things secret, but to continually blame the CIA for a failure of intelligence is at its best convenient spin, and at its worst a bold-faced lie. I lean toward bold-faced lie. The intelligence did not fail us on Iraq, our elected officials did. They picked a few cherries off the top of the intelligence basket that suited their needs, while ignoring the bushel of contradictory and cautionary fruit screaming to be recognized right below. To continually demoralize the people we need to rely on for protection is irresponsible.

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Go Minutemen!

(No, not those Minutemen.) The Minutemen of West Morris Mendham High School. My alma mater in Mendham, New Jersey, which is ranked 151st in Newsweek's list of the 1,200 best high schools in the U.S. -- see here.

Not too shabby.

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It was 66 years ago today...

May 10: On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill took over from Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of Britain at the head of a new coalition government. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Check out the BBC here.

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A Democratic debate

The Democratic Party is looking ahead to November '06 and November '08, says The New York Times: "With Democrats increasingly optimistic about this year's midterm elections and the landscape for 2008, intellectuals in the center and on the left are debating how to sharpen the party's identity and present a clear alternative to the conservatism that has dominated political thought for a generation."

The Times evidently doesn't pay much attention to the blogosphere, where this debate has been going on for a long time.

In the blogosphere, the debate isn't always friendly — or, at least, there are often serious and sometimes harshly personal differences in perspective. A current debate pits The New Republic's Jonathan Chait against Kos and Atrios. You can find Chait's recent posts at TNR's The Plank here and here. Kevin Drum weighs in here, the Bull Moose here.

My abridged view is this: I don't think that the "left" is all that left. As I recently argued here, the rightward shift of America's perceived center of political gravity over the past few decades has made the left seem more extreme than it really is (or, rather, extreme when it isn't). In fact, the real center of gravity is well to the left of where conservatives claim it is. Given this, I think Kevin is right.

However, Chait's argument that the Kossack left has come to resemble the McGovernite New Left of the late '60s and early '70s is quite persuasive. What worries me is the demand for ideological purity and political conformity that seems to come from some parts of the pro-Democratic blogosphere. The Democrats will only win by being a broad-based party that welcomes and celebrates diverse viewpoints (including, perhaps, Joe Lieberman), not by enforcing a strict litmus test that alienates so-called "moderates".

Ultimately, there is a lot that unites Democrats and a lot that unites their supporters in the blogosphere, but, politically, winning requires compromise.

I welcome debate. It's good for us. The unexamined life is not worth living, and, in my view, the unexamined party isn't worth supporting. But let's have a healthy, constructive debate, not one that divides, not one where winning outright is the goal. We may not need our own 11th Commandment, but we do need greater respect for difference. And, differences and all, we need to pull together if we are to win in November and again in '08.

The Republicans will be enough of an opponent. We don't need to go up against ourselves as well.

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The United States has the second-worst newborn mortality rate in the developed world

Yes, it's true, according to a new report by Save the Children. CNN has the story here:

American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month as children born in Japan, and newborn mortality is 2.5 times higher in the United States than in Finland, Iceland or Norway, Save the Children researchers found.

Only Latvia, with six deaths per 1,000 live births, has a higher death rate for newborns than the United States, which is tied near the bottom of industrialized nations with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with five deaths per 1,000 births.

Research shows that "[t]he newborn mortality rate in the United States... affect[s] minorities disproportionately, that "poorer mothers with less education were at a significantly higher risk of early delivery," and that "in general lower educational attainment was associated with higher newborn mortality".

I don't presume to know what the answer is, but perhaps universal health care would help. Just a thought.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bush's approval rating sinks even lower

According to Gallup, it's now at 31 percent, "a 12-point decline since the start of the year". For what it's worth.

More here.

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Iranian "olive branch" goes public

As you may know by now, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently sent a letter to President Bush, the first such correspondence between an Iranian president and a U.S. president in 27 years. Joe Gandelman wrote about it here.

Well, the letter is now public. Here's The New York Times:

In his letter to President Bush, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that Western-style democracy had failed and that the use of secret prisons in Europe and aspects of the war in Iraq could not be reconciled with Mr. Bush's Christian values. But it did not address directly the central issue that divides the two countries: Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In his wide-ranging letter, written in Farsi with an English translation, Mr. Ahmadinejad at times challenges and concedes as he directs question after question to Mr. Bush but offers no concrete proposals. In Iran today, the Iranian president portrayed it as a blueprint of "suggestions for resolving the many problems facing humanity," the Iranian news agency Irna reported.

State Department officials who read the letter suggested that it offered an interesting window into the mentality and thinking of Iran, especially because it seemed to reflect a inclination to dwell on myriad grievances of the past rather than on the problem at hand, namely Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Here's a bit more:

The letter provides at times a striking insight into the Iranian president's vision of double standards in American foreign policy, criticizing what he portrays as a lack of support for elected Palestinian and Latin American governments...

The Iranian president also extends to Mr. Bush an "invitation" to return to governing the United States based on the values of Jesus Christ, whose name in the letter is followed each time by the letters "PBUH," which stands for "Peace Be Upon Him."

Frequently quoting passages from the Koran, Mr. Ahmadinejad calls for a return to a religious basis of government.

You can find the full text of the letter at France's Le Monde newspaper

There's a lot in there, from a denunciation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to bigoted comments on Israel and the Holocaust, but here's the line that most struck me: "Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed."

No, they haven't, President Ahmadinejad. No, they haven't. You may, in your delusional state, be able to hear "the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems," but we liberal democrats, we who find in the union of democracy and liberty the last, best hope for humanity, know better.

We may disagree over how best to deal with your nuclear program, but we are not about to give in and reject our way of life and our system of government.

You underestimate us at your peril.


Over at The Moderate Voice, where this post first appeared earlier today, Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye asked if I was "being ironic with the 'olive branch' characterization". After all, the letter is just "a list of grievances".

My answer: Hugely ironic, yes. I realize it's not a serious olive branch. After all, there's no mention of Iran's nuclear program anywhere in the letter. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad's rhetoric ought not be divorced from its context. Much of what he says, all that fist-clenching nationalist bluster, is meant for domestic consumption, whereas I suspect that this letter is meant largely for international consumption. Bush rejected it and the U.S. will generally look unfavorably upon it, but it may be enough to buy Iran some time (and perhaps even some support). After all, some of the views elaborated in the letter are shared, at least to some degree, even by America's European allies.

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Picking a fight

By Creature

How does the GOP, or at least karl Rove, intend to win in November? A quick look at the headlines today has Rove wearing his lowbrow political strategy on his sleeve:
Selection Ensures Welcome Revival of Wiretap Debate
But Republican strategists on Monday said the White House's decision to nominate Hayden, despite a certain fight over the program, reflected administration thinking that the fall elections will be won in part by motivating the traditional conservative base, using the same focus on national security that succeeded in 2002 and 2004. [Read More]
Rove prepares 20 judges
Rove’s participation in the meeting could mean the White House intends to emphasize the judiciary to rev up the conservative base in the run-up to the midterm election. The judiciary, because of its power over social issues, is a leading concern of the base. Rove is likely to spend more time wooing the base since he was shifted from a policy-oriented to a purely political-strategy role last month. [Read More]

It's classic Karl Rove. Don't offer up any programs or plans.* Don't tout your accomplishments.** No, the Republican strategy*** for holding onto the House and Senate in November is to pick a few fights with the Democrats and hope they back themselves into a base-rallying wall.

Karl Rove is nothing more than a schoolyard bully.

*Tax cuts for your wealthy friends, and the raping of America, do not count as programs or plans. Sorry, Karl.
**Tax cuts for your wealthy friends, and the raping of America, do not count as accomplishments. Sorry, Karl.
***Let's also not forget the fear-factor-plan of impeachment and investigations. I just didn't have a headline for that today.

(Thanks to memeorandum for the headline review.)

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Do over

By Creature

Has the White House officially admitted they have made a mistake? I think so. The larger story here is the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden as the director of the CIA and the Bush Administration's need to make nice with the critics of General Hayden. The underlying story however, as told in The Washington Post, is the "highly unorthodox move" of disclosing the plan to have Stephen R. Kappes, who quit in November 2004 because of former Director Porter Goss, become deputy director.

So, how does all this add up to the White House admitting it made a mistake? Read below in conjunction with all of the above, and tell me this isn't the Bush equivalent of, oops, our bad, let's try this whole CIA reshuffle thing again:

The move [naming Kappes as number two] was seen as a direct repudiation of Goss's leadership and as an olive branch to CIA veterans disaffected by his 18-month tenure, during which many other senior officials followed Kappes out the door.

A repudiation and an olive branch, sounds like an admission to me. Now, if only they would repudiate Rumsfeld's leadership and hand an olive branch over to the disaffected troops.

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Rethinking feminism: Consent

Guest post by Aspazia of Mad Melancholic Feminista

(Ed. note: This post is part of Aspazia's excellent "Rethinking feminism" series at her blog. This is the second post we've featured here at The Reaction. You can find the first, on poverty and health care, here. -- MJWS)


I cannot resist writing about college conduct policies, specifically what constitutes consent in sexual relations. While at some point in the future, I might very much like to write a piece where I compare various college "consent policies," today I will write what I know. My own college policy reads as follows:

The Director of Student Rights & Responsibilities receives all incident reports and refers cases to the appropriate investigators and hearing bodies. Charges of misconduct which, in the judgment of the Director, could lead to separation from the Institution (Suspension or Expulsion) will be handled through the formal hearing process which will include the Student Conduct Review Board. Factors to be considered will be the present demeanor and past disciplinary record of the offender, as well as the nature of the offense and the severity of any damage,injury, or harm resulting from it. Repeated or aggravated violations of any section of this code may also result in expulsion or suspension or in the imposition of such lesser sanctions as may be appropriate.

1. Sexual Misconduct
Sexual Misconduct is defined as a threat of a sexual nature or deliberate physical contact of a sexual nature without the other person's consent. Examples of such behavior include, but are not limited to, 1) deliberate or reckless threat, actual or implied; 2) physical contact of a lewd type such as brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing; 3) physical contact of a sexual nature that results in reasonable apprehension of a sexual assault or physical harm; and 4) coerced sexual activities, including rape.

All sexual interaction between any two people must be consensual. Each individual has a responsibility to obtain consent before engaging in sexual interaction. Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating "yes") to engage in specific sexual conduct. If either person at any point in a sexual encounter does not give continuing and active consent, all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier. A person who is impaired by consumption of alcohol or drugs is considered unable to give consent.

To initiate sexual contact with someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol or drugs, who is unable to give verbal consent (sleeping or unconscious), or who is threatened, coerced, or intimidated is a violation of Code of Conduct. To coerce a person to consume alcohol or other drugs for the purpose of inducing sexual activity is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

Students are reminded that the conduct covered in this policy may also result in criminal prosecution under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is the practice of the College to encourage all persons reporting a serious violation of this policy to also report the incident to the local authorities.

I have highlighted what I think are two very important aspects of this policy, and why our college policy ends up failing truly to protect our campus from rape. First of all, the behavior included in the definition of sexual misconduct (which is, btw, our college's clever way of renaming sexual assault or rape) -- physical contact of a lewd type such as brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing -- is behavior that is quite typical and normal in most sexual relationships. The phrase, however, includes the word "lewd," which is purposely ambiguous. It allows the jury not to find a student guilty of sexual misconduct if it believes that he or she was not lewdly doing these behaviors. And yet, it's not clear what counts as lewd kissing or lewd touching. What special extra behavior or words need to be present in order to demonstrate that someone was not being lewd or that someone was being lewd when kissing another student?

For example, let's say that a very well brought up, gentlemanly student -- let's call him Kurt -- has been dating his girlfriend for three months. So far their dates have consisted of hand-holding (without getting verbal consent, btw), going out to campus events together, and attending a formal. Our couple has not yet kissed, slept in the same bed, or engaged in any "petting". One night after the formal, Kurt is walking his girlfriend -- Lana -- back to her dorm room, and Lana grabs Kurt behind the neck, draws him closer to her, and begins to kiss him like he has never been kissed. Before he knows it, Lana has put her tongue in Kurt's mouth and he is shocked by how forward and lewd this behavior is. Kurt has every right to file charges against Lana for sexual misconduct in this case. What the jury will have to decide is if Lana was being lewd or not.

Now for another example: let's say that Sally -- a self-possessed, friendly trickster -- walks by Sam, a boy on her floor, who has just left the shower and is wearing nothing but a towel. She runs up behind Sam and pinches his bare bottom. Sally has just violated Sam with this lewd pinching, right?

I chose these two innocuous examples to get at what is problematic about a conduct code like this, why I think such a code is a betrayal of feminism. I will then explain how a college like mine actually uses this code.

What is Problematic About this Code

First of all, this code allows the campus to suspend students for the behaviors listed above. Each of the scenarios I illustrated is an instance of not getting verbal consent, and thereby the student should be found responsible for sexual misconduct. If and when such a student is found responsible, the charge will be placed on his or her record and must be disclosed to many post-graduate jobs, graduate schools, or fellowships, like the Peace Corps. Perhaps what is more upsetting, however, is that when a student rapes another student, he (or she?) is found responsible for sexual misconduct, the same charge that would be applied to the two other cases above. Sure, rape might be the fourth level of sexual misconduct, but the sentencing seems to be the same for levels 1-4.

The students are taught this code the first week of new orientation. We break men and women up into two different groups and go over the code. Each time I have participated in this, students have peppered me with lots of questions. In particular, the women have pointed out that the examples taught of sexual misconduct are always men preying on drunk women. And they wonder if this code puts the onus on the boy to get verbal consent rather than the woman. I have never had a satisfactory answer to this. The last two levels of sexual misconduct -- (3) physical contact of a sexual nature that results in reasonable apprehension of a sexual assault or physical harm and (4) coerced sexual activities, including rape -- have often struck many of the young women students that I am educating as likely to find only men guilty of sexual misconduct rather than women. I wasn't sure I necessarily agreed, until I sat through my own Student Conduct Review Board (SCRB) hearing. During that hearing, where two students who had been dating and engaging in regular sexual activity (except intercourse), the female student was found in now way responsible for violating the sexual misconduct policy even though she admitted to initiating much of the activity and hadn't gotten his verbal consent at any point of the sexual experience.

This Code is a Betrayal of Feminism

What I find insulting about this conduct code, and the way that the SCRB board enforces it, is that it suggests that women are helpless, passive, sexual victims. First of all, many of the behaviors that constitute "sexual misconduct" are so ambiguous as to make a mockery of the seriousness of sexual assault. This code threatens to teach women to adopt a rather puritan, Victorian view of their sexuality, rather than embolden them to embrace and own their sexuality. If you don't want a boy to kiss you, then tell him to stop and walk away. Women are perfectly capable of setting boundaries around what is acceptable sexual behavior and speaking up when they don't want to do something. Women are, after all, moral agents, aren't they? Do we want to assume that anyone who makes a pass is violating something sacred? Good lord, do we want to perpetuate that sort of view of our personhood?

These policies are deeply protectionist in nature. They regulate all sexual action because they assume -- IMHO -- that male sexuality on college campuses is predatory and women are at great risk the minute they get here. The justification for such a protectionist conduct code is that you have a great deal of problems with rape and sexual assault on campus. That is absolutely true. But this code doesn't really get to the heart of the culture that leads to higher instances of rape and sexual assault. The woman who is raped at a fraternity party is not going to go forward to College Life and then face the man (men) who assaulted her in a kangaroo court, where the social consequences of outing the rapists are massive. Women who are raped generally never go forward and report what happened, especially on a college campus where their friends might side with the rapist to maintain good relations with his fraternity. These women rarely get a rape kit, or press charges with the local police. Many of the female students who are raped or assaulted on my campus are, oddly, not even sure if they were assaulted or victimized, because after all they were drunk, dressed in a sexy way, and at a party. (See the Happy Feminist on this issue.) This code is far more likely to produce false positives, especially since no real investigation takes place.

I used to get annoyed by male students who would tell me that their deepest fear is to be falsely accused of rape. I would point out to them, over and over again, how rarely women who were raped go forward. I pointed out how horrific rape cases are for victims. And all of that is true. But then I saw first hand my first false accusation case. And I learned exactly why men are terrified by false accusations. I don't think that they occur a lot. Nor do I think that this problem is more pressing than actual rapes (don't put me PLEASE in the MRA camp!). But it is a fact that we have created college policies and employment policies that make it easy to get an accused off campus or off the work premises without any real investigation. Once a student is accused, his reputation is forever ruined; there is no innocence until proven guilty. While the credibility of rape victims continues to be a serious issue (e.g., the Duke case), our policies to give more credibility to women victims has made the mistake of leading to a great deal of false accusations.

I would applaud a serious effort on the part of my college to challenge the institutions -- sports teams and fraternities -- wherein sexual assault of women seems like a rite of passage, but the fact is that the college, deep down, doesn't really want to do that. Why?

If we want to take rape and sexual assault seriously on campus, then we need to convict rapists, we need vigorously to challenge sexist practices -- which are often part of sports team or fraternity hazing. If we establish a kangaroo court to get men falsely accused of rape off campus ASAP, without really investigating what happened, then we are making a mockery of any rape trial. You don't correct the past sins of not believing rape victims by wholly believing any claim that any woman makes against a man on campus.

How the College Misuses the Policy

All colleges are required to report the number of rapes, assaults, and thefts that occur on a campus. This information has to be made available to prospective students and their parents. And no college wants to report the real number of rapes and assaults that takes place. The conduct code in place allows them to rename what happened as sexual misconduct. This prevents the charge from being an actual felony or crime according to the Pennsylvania code. The conduct code also makes it easy to get any student who has been accused of rape off campus immediately in order to protect the college from any liability. So the code is not designed really to punish students and send a serious a message that rape and sexual assault is not tolerated. It is a code designed to make it easier for the college to CYA.

There are no due process protections in place in this system. The hearing board is comprised of people hand-picked by the same office that writes and enforces the code. Moreover, whether a student has actually raped another student or has just failed to get verbal consent before kissing his girlfriend, the student gets to return after having been dismissed for a semester. If the student actually raped another student, the college doesn't call it a rape, because to do so would mean it would have to disclose this statistic, hence bad P.R.

I am even cynical enough to believe -- how sad is this -- that the college is happy to take cases where it is clear that the young man did not rape the student, because it knows the local borough won't press charges, and hence because this case will never make headlines. It gets the male student off campus quietly, satisfying the parents and preventing a P.R. headache that might deter future students from attending the college.

This post is part of my rethinking feminism series because it highlights to me the ways in which institutions adopted what seemed to be "feminist friendly" policies only to serve their self-interest and not actually to prevent rape or sexual assault. My college has instituted an incredibly protectionist policy that most conservatives would lambaste as the legacy of the P.C. era, but I believe there is something far more nefarious afoot. While the subtext of this college policy does suggest a 2nd wave view of woman's sexuality as passive and helpless to men's predatory sexual behavior, that is not the real problem with the code (although I do find it insulting). The real problem is that the college adopted this "feminist friendly" code ultimately to keep its rape statistics low and to protect itself from liability -- either angry parents or the federal government. This policy does nothing to create a campus that is more respectful of women, nor does it promote healthy self-image and sexual behavior.

While conservatives love to point to codes like this as the fascist excesses of the femi-nazis, I think these codes work against the important democratic principle of transparency. The real problem is that we allow college campuses to ignore due process protections in order to improve their "image". And the college doesn't actually want to take on the fraternities or sports teams, since it is precisely these college institutions that attract so many men -- willing to pay high tuition costs -- to a liberal arts college. We need these men, and so we aren't going to reform these institutions in a way that will turn away potential applicants to the college.

So, to you conservatives out there reading this, you should be offended by these policies because, frankly, they aren't fair. To feminists, you should be pissed off because they aren't really in place to make your campus safer.

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Liberia's sex-for-aid scandal resurfaces

From the BBC:

Young girls in Liberia are still being sexually exploited by aid workers and peacekeepers despite pledges to stamp out such abuse, Save the Children says.

Girls as young as eight are being forced to have sex in exchange for food by workers for local and international agencies, according to its report.

The agency says such abuse is becoming more common as people displaced by the civil war return to their villages.

The UN in Liberia said it would investigate specific allegations.

The United Nations promised to put safeguards in place after sexual abuse in the refugee camps of West Africa was first revealed four years ago.

But a study by Save the Children, which involved speaking to more than 300 people in camps for people displaced by the war, found that abuse was still widespread.

This is utterly shameful. One can only hope the U.N. will not just "investigate specific allegations" but do everything it can to put an end to the abuse generally.

Liberia needs aid. The last thing it needs is more abuse, particularly abuse of this kind. Basic standards of humane treatment of the weak and vulnerable shouldn't be too much to ask for. After all, those who receive aid should at least be able to trust those who are providing the aid. It's that simple.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq IV

Here's the latest from The Washington Post: "A series of car bomb attacks in Baghdad and the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala killed about 30 Iraqis early Sunday, police and witnesses said, while an Interior Ministry source reported that 51 bodies had been found in the capital since Saturday morning."

What more can possibly be said at this point?

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Is the Bush Administration over?

At least one prominent Republican pollster thinks so. Here's the Post: "'This administration may be over,' Lance Tarrance, a chief architect of the Republicans' 1960s and '70s Southern strategy, told a gathering of journalists and political wonks last week. 'By and large, if you want to be tough about it, the relevancy of this administration on policy may be over.'"

I'd like to believe this, but I just can't. Bush won't be able to accomplish much domestically over his final 1,000 days, but it's premature, and simply erroneous, to conclude that he has nothing left. There's still Iraq and the ongoing war on terror, after all, not to mention Iran. How will Bush handle the nebulous situation in Iraq? Will he stay the course, so to speak, or will he call for a strategic withdrawal of troops. If a withdrawal, when and how many? Will he launch another Battle of Baghdad? With respect to the war on terror, how will it continue to be waged both at home and abroad? With respect to Iran, will Bush negotiate with Tehran, pursue a diplomatic solution through the U.N., or launch a military strike of some kind? And how about Darfur? How about other as-yet-unknown crises that may spring up at any time?

True, there's no domestic agenda left. New White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has a five-point plan to try to boost Bush's popularity and prevent a complete Republican collapse in November, but that's about it. The problem -- a problem for those of us who don't like Bush -- is that the president still has immense power in terms of diplomacy, the military, and national security. And he still has almost 1,000 days left.

I suspect he isn't quite done yet.

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Umberto Boccioni: The City Rises (1910)

In memory of Jane Jacobs, the great urbanist and social activist who recently passed away, here's a brilliant depiction of the swirling movement of urban life. Boccioni's city is decidedly pre-modern (note the horses), but the rhythms are eternal. It's a beautiful expression of what makes a city simultaneously exciting and frightening, a visually stimulating break from all of our political blogging (which will resume later today).

I hope you're all enjoying the weekend.

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