Saturday, July 29, 2006

Who would Jesus slur?

By Creature

By now we all know the story of the passionate one, Mel Gibson, and his run in with the law. However, do we also know the pious one turned drunken tragedy into opportunity as he used his moment in front of the squad car spotlight to let the world know how he truly feels. Mel you are a fruitcake.
The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

Besides his disrespect for the law, and for the Jewish people, it seems Mel also doesn't have much respect for women either:

A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?"

The good news for Mel is that now that all the drinking, cursing, and general disrespecting of mankind has been made public, he is now all the more qualified to be president of the United States one day.

TMZ has more. Plus, let's give a big tip-o-hat to Meme for bringing this truth to our attention.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Things about money

By Creature

In the wake of September the eleventh our brave bullhorn president asked the American people to make sacrifices. "Go shopping, young man," he said to the people. The people listened. The hard sacrifice was made, but now as the bullhorn feels the economic blow-back from his Middle East misadventures, what's a consumer patriot to do? This from the Washington Post:

The U.S. economy slowed sharply in the three months ended in June, expanding at less than half its pace earlier this year, as consumers and businesses hunkered down in response to climbing inflation and interest rates.

Consumers spent more on gasoline while pulling back on purchases of houses, automobiles and many other items. Businesses slashed their spending on housing construction and on equipment and software, while hiring more cautiously at a time of uncertainty over how much the economy will cool.

I'm not so sure the economy can stay-the-course much longer. But at least the rich folks little folks got a estate tax minimum wage repeal increase from the House last night. That should help the rich get richer economy along nicely.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Stupidity in the military: The case of the gay Arabic language specialist

With all that's going on in the world, most notably in Arabic-speaking parts of the world, you'd think the U.S. military could use as many Arabic linguists as it can find. Right?

Wrong. For what's more important to the military than being able to speak Arabic? Being gay, of course.

According to the AP, Bleu Copas, "[a] decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist [has been] dismissed from the U.S. Army under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy".

You want stupid? This is stupid!

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One woman killed, five others injured in shooting at Seattle Jewish center

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Six women were shot - one fatally - this afternoon at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by a man who told a witness he was upset about 'what was going on in Israel.'"

The shooter has been apprehended: "'We believe it's a lone individual acting out his antagonism,' said David Gomez, who heads the FBI's counterterrorism efforts in Seattle."

The Seattle Times has more here.

Tension is everywhere, it seems. But let's not make more of this than it is. This was a horrific incident, an isolated one, that left one woman dead. The FBI says that it was "a lone individual".

So why does the bigoted right insist on turning this into yet another "clash of civilizations" story, yet another example of them against us, yet another excuse for blanket prejudice. Just see Michelle Malkin, who titles her post "Shooting in Seattle: Muslim revenge".

Whatever is going on in Lebanon, whatever else is going on around the world in terms of Islamist terrorism, and however much Israel's very existence is threatened by its enemies, let's not condemn all Muslims for this. To do so is to play into the hands of those who think the worst of us, Muslim and otherwise. It is to become too much like them, the ones who truly wish us all harm.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Minimum wage madness

Just over a month ago -- on June 21, to be precise -- I criticized Senate Republicans for refusing to support an increase to the minimum wage, which currently stands at a measly $5.15 an hour (where it's been for a decade).

Well, with the November midterms looming menacingly on the horizon, House Republicans have finally given in, proposing to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Good politics? For Republicans, yes. It makes them look like they actually care about the working poor. (They don't, but it's the perception that they do that matters right now.)

A $7.25 minimum wage is exactly what Ted Kennedy has proposed in the Senate. Which means that, politics or not, we should applaud the House Republicans' efforts to increase the minimum wage, right? Even if means that they'll look better to voters come November?

No. For this effort is nothing if not nefarious. And it isn't really about the minimum wage. As the AP reports, the Republican leadership only supports a minimum wage increase "if it's coupled with a cut in inheritance taxes on multimillion-dollar estates".

Yes, you read that correctly. The proposed minimum wage increase is all about cutting taxes. You didn't really think Republicans would legislate out of the goodness of their own hearts, did you? Or that they would genuinely try to help America's working poor?

The details of the tax cuts for the wealthy are in the article, but the AP actually gets what's going on here: "The maneuver was aimed at defusing the wage hike as a campaign issue for Democrats while using the popularity of the increase to achieve the Republican Party's longtime goal of permanently cutting taxes on the estates of millionaires and small businessmen."

In other words: Screw the poor. They're a GOP bargaining tool.

To be fair, some Republicans do support a minimum wage increase. But there shouldn't be any strings attached. Consider: "A person working 40 hours per week at minimum wage makes $10,700, which is below the poverty line for workers with families."

That's obscene. I said it a month ago and I say it again: Shame on the GOP.

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Thy sword and thy shield

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

"What I can tell you is this. We have on a daily basis had numerous occasions where our position has come under direct or indirect fire from both (Israeli) artillery and aerial bombing. The closest artillery has landed within 2 meters of our position and the closest 1000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity.

"What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields* and then engaging the [Israeli Defense Forces].'"


These words and more were e-mailed just last week (July 18) by Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener, one of the UN observers killed this week by Israeli artillery to CTV, the Canadian Television network. Of course, and as I have stated repeatedly, belief that Israel deliberately kills innocent people will continue to prosper amongst people who have a political and ethnic reason to believe it. If there could be humor in horror, it would lie in the fact that the notion is used to excuse and defend people whose entire lives revolves around killing innocent people – although, of course, they maintain that it’s impossible for even an Israeli infant to be innocent.

Although the official U.N. position as set forth by Kofi Annan is that there was no Hezbollah activity in the area and that the shelling was "apparently deliberate," Kruedener reported before his death that the post gave the observers a view of "Hezbollah static positions in and around* our patrol Base."

Cited in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday, Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, who was the first U.N. commander in Sarajevo during the Bosnian civil war, said it's a tactic he's seen in past international missions: Aside from snuggling up to U.N. posts, fighters would operate near hospitals, mosques, and orphanages in order to maximize civilian casualties.

Of course, this is not the opinion of one man. Killing innocent civilians to make your enemy look bad is a tactic of terrorist groups almost universally. The only thing more disgusting than such inhuman slaughter is the fact that the ploy works so well in generating support for the two-legged vermin that use it.

(*bold italics mine)

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah round-up #1

Here are some conflict-related stories worth checking out:

Haaretz: "Nine IDF soldiers died Wednesday and 27 others were injured in the hardest day of fighting in southern Lebanon since the war began two weeks ago. Five of the injured soldiers are in serious condition. The IDF believes that Hezbollah lost 15 of its fighters in Wednesday's fighting."

Reuters: "Israel launched a heavy air and artillery bombardment of south Lebanon on Thursday..."

ABC News: "There was jarring evidence of Hezbollah's tactics [yesterday] when more than 80 rockets struck Israel, wounding dozens and killing a 15-year-old Israeli Arab girl." -- "'They are attacking us in a very organized position,' one [Israeli] soldier said. 'They know where we are coming from. They know everything. They shoot us wherever they like. It's their country.'
He added they are 'very well armed.'"

Los Angeles Times: "Even before Wednesday's bruising day on the battlefields of south Lebanon, Israel's leaders had begun scaling back public expectations of a decisive — or a quick — victory over the guerrillas of Hezbollah." -- "With the fighting in its third week... Israelis are being told that Hezbollah can be weakened but not eradicated, that Israeli forces will not be able to police the border zone themselves, and that Hezbollah's rockets continue to pose a threat to Israeli towns."

The Times: "Peacekeepers spent six hours begging Israeli commanders to halt multiple air bombings near a United Nations observation post before a missile killed four unarmed observers there, it emerged last night." The BBC looks at how the U.N. post at Khiyam was hit.

CNN: "Surrounded by yellow Hezbollah flags, more than 60 Iranian volunteers set off Wednesday to join what they called a holy war against Israeli forces in Lebanon."

The Sydney Morning Herald: "Lebanon is investigating reports from doctors that Israel has used weapons in its 15-day-old bombardment of southern Lebanon that have caused wounds they have never seen before."

Harper's: "Could U.S. troops end up in Lebanon?" -- "The scenario of an American deployment appears to come straight out of the neoconservative playbook: send U.S. forces into the Middle East, regardless of what our own military leaders suggest, in order to “stabilize” the region. The chances of success, as we have seen in Iraq, are remote. So what should be done?"

The Independent, linked in the Harper's piece, looks at what might happen next in the Middle East. How will the conflict end? Given a few different scenarios, what are the consequences?

Much to read. All important.

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Failure in Rome

As you've probably heard by now, diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Lebanon didn't go anywhere at yesterday's meeting of foreign ministers in Rome. There was agreement on the need "for a United Nations-led international military force to be sent to the Middle East to act as a buffer between Israel and Lebanon," but "[the U.S.] succeeded... in holding off demands for an immediate ceasefire". Blair will keep pushing for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, but it's not clear when the American green light to the Israeli offensive will turn red. It's unlikely that any diplomatic effort would work without full and committed U.S. support.

Abu Aardvark has more here and offers some interesting commentary:

Real American leadership, such as quickly restraining the Israeli offensive and taking the lead in ceasefire negotiations, could have created a Suez moment and dramatically increased American influence and prestige (especially if the Saudis had delivered Iran in a ceasefire agreement, as I've heard that Saudi officials believed that they could). But by disappearing for the first days of the war and then resurfacing only to provide a megaphone for Israeli arguments and to prevent international efforts at achieving a ceasefire, the Bush administration put America at the center of the storm of blame. I think that the Lebanon war will go down in history as one of the greatest missed opportunities in recent American diplomatic history -- not because we failed to go after Iran, or whatever the bobbleheads are ranting about these days, but because we failed to rise to the occasion and exercise real global leadership in the national interest.

That's pretty much the story of the Bush presidency, isn't it?

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Sign of the Apocalypse #35: (Crazy) talk of the coming Apocalypse

Until now, most of our Signs of the Apocalypse have centered on the absurdity of our popular culture, from the phenomenon of Brangelina (admittedly, an attractive SOTA) to Britney's motherhood to the scientological madness of Tom Cruise and his new family to such icons of degradation as Paris Hilton, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Diddy or Puffy or whatever the hell he's calling himself these days, the Donald and the Martha and their apprenticeship programs, Ashton and Demi, Anna Nicole, and Ryan Seacrest, not to mention such mind-boggling trends as designer vaginas and Holocaust performance art.

Check out the complete list over on the right sidebar.

But what if a glaring Sign of the Apocalypse is all the current talk of the Apocalypse? As Echidne sees it, we may very well be witnessing a return to the Middle Ages. Here's her response:

We have television news talking about this stuff SERIOUSLY!!!!

What happened to the Enlightenment? Did we ever even have it? And how do you live in a medieval society without going totally crazy?

Let me try to answer those three questions:

1) The Enlightenment? What Enlightenment?

2) I'm not sure. I've read about it and I've studied it, and I think it happened, but evidently it was just a passing phase.

3) I have no idea. Maybe just give in and go crazy like everyone else? Or maybe move to Canada.

Losing your mind yet?

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Extra! Extra! Not all of Oklahoma is backward and crazy!

So says our friend Edward Copeland, who reports that the state that has elected Jim "global warming is a hoax" Inhofe and Tom "lesbian schoolgirls are doing it in the washrooms" Coburn to the Senate has -- believe it or not -- elected its very first "openly gay representative" to the state legislature.

In a related story, which is just now coming across the weather wire, Hell is expecting a high of -1 today.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Frozen fish

As some of you may know, Europe is suffering through a terrible heatwave that has, according to the BBC, "claimed the lives of an estimated 40 people over last two weeks". And it isn't just the heat: "The high temperatures -- above 35C (95F) in some places -- have been accompanied by increased pollution and drought."

Thankfully, the situation isn't nearly as bad as it was in 2003, when a heatwave was responsible for around 15,000 deaths in France alone.

This resident of a zoo in western France (below) even gets to enjoy a mackerel-flavoured ice cube as he swims. (Good eats, I presume.) As we take a short break from all the killing in other parts of the world, it's our Photo of the Day.

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The relentless demise of Katherine Harris

We've had some good fun tracking the demise of Katherine Harris, haven't we? Think back to her ignominious perseverance, then her desperate rebirth, and then her pathetic implosion.

Well, with her candidacy entering its final throes, let's have some more. According to The Miami Herald, the implosion, as pathetic as ever, continues:

In only three months, U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris has lost almost half of the Republicans who planned to vote for her, according to a new poll that suggests the congresswoman has little chance of unseating Sen. Bill Nelson...

Were the election held now, Nelson would best Harris 57 percent to 29 percent...

Even in the Republican primary, Harris would fare poorly... [A] March poll against an expected challenger showed she garnered 72 percent of the GOP vote. But now, against three little-known GOP opponents, she wins only 36 percent of the vote.

And there will no doubt be more to come -- "Harris [has given] little indication she's giving up" -- until we can finally call her a loser in November (if not sooner).

The Germans have a good word for this: Schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. I'm not necessarily proud of my pleasure-taking in Harris's misfortune, but can I help it if her demise brings me so much pleasure?

It's her comeuppance, isn't it? (And what is that but justice?)

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Four U.N. observers killed in Israeli airstrike

The Washington Post, along with other major news outlets, is reporting that four U.N. observers have been killed in an Israeli airstrike:

An Israeli airstrike hit a United Nations post in southern Lebanon late Tuesday, killing four international observers, hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to lift Israel's 14-day blockade of Lebanon for shipments of humanitarian aid to reach the swelling ranks of displaced Lebanese civilians.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, knee jerking recklessly, said he was "shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting" of the "clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam". Meaning: Israel intentionally hit the U.N. post and, ipso facto, killed four U.N. observers. Annan called on Israel to "to conduct a full investigation into this very disturbing incident and demand that any further attack on U.N. positions and personnel must stop".

But did Israel intentionally target the U.N. post at Khiyam? CNN, which is reporting that two U.N. of the observers were killed while two are still missing, quotes Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman: "I am surprised at these premature and erroneous assertions made by the secretary-general, who while demanding an investigation, has already issued its conclusions."

He's right. Annan is surely upset that the U.N. observers were killed, but does it make any sense that Israel would do such a thing? Hardly. Annan's knee jerking is irresponsible and counter-productive.


I should note that neither the Post nor the BBC bothers to present the Israeli side of the story -- the BBC not at all, the Post only with this: "Israeli government officials, expressing regret over the deaths, said that the U.N. personnel were not targeted and that there would be an investigation."

One of the observers was Canadian. The Globe and Mail has the story (from the AP), but its coverage also offers little more than an uncritical regurgitation of Annan's comments and a few details that amount to a condemnation of Israel well before all the facts are known.

The airstrike is currently the leading story at Haaretz, which provides much better coverage than these four outlets.

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Israel's window of opportunity to weaken Hezbollah (UPDATE)

Updating a recent post on "the green light" the U.S. has apparently given Israel to weaken Hezbollah, Fox News is reporting this:

The United States has given Israeli forces between 10 and 14 days to finish dealing Hezbollah "a strategic blow," a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official told FOX News, as both Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerrillas continued to volley rockets across the Lebanon-Israel border.

This official explains why the offensive is going so slowly:

While admitting that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is working at a "slow pace," the official insisted the plan was constructed out of concern for human life.

"We could do it much faster if we would be willing to inflict high civilian casualties," the official said. "The decision was made to move in a methodical, slow way."

Well, I hope that's true. I suppose I've given Israel my own green light to do within reason what it needs to do to defend itself against an enemy that seeks to destroy it, but at some point enough will be enough and Israel will need to pull back and allow an international force to secure peace along its border with Lebanon.

And beyond that? Who knows? Whatever peace is secured will likely be short-lived.

In the end, there will only be peace if Hezbollah, Hamas, and other such organizations give up their violent struggle against Israel's very existence and if states throughout the Middle East, notably Iran and Syria, acknowledge and accept Israel's right to exist peacefully as a sovereign state. (And, yes, if a Palestinian state is allowed to exist peacefully next door.)

I'm optimistic that this will happen. I'm far less optimistic that it will happen anytime soon.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Swift-boating Strickland; or, why the GOP is playing the gay card in Ohio

The GOP is -- surprise, surprise -- playing the gay card in Ohio's gubernatorial race, suggesting that Democratic candidate Ted Strickland is gay, that his wife is gay, and that their relationship is "bizarre".

Strickland isn't gay, but it doesn't matter (and it shouldn't matter). The GOP is once again pandering to some of the darkest elements of its base, the gay-hating base.

Shakespeare's Sister has the story, some links, and this: "I spy a party [that] can't possibly win on the issues."

Exactly right. Only high voter turnout will put the Republicans over the top in a close race, and the way to turn out Republican voters is to terrify them with the threat of the new Other known as the Homosexual. With blacks and Jews off-limits, at least in the open, and with Communists no longer much of a problem, gays and lesbians are now the main target of this hate-filled fear-mongering.

The rest of America, straight America, may finally be coming around to acknowledgement of the rights of gays and lesbians, if not yet complete approval of their sexual orientation, but prejudice is still a winner in the GOP heartland.

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Bush and Blair: A tale of two polls

1) From the U.S.: "A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds 37% of Americans approving of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 59% disapproving." Bush's approval rating "seems to have reached a plateau in the 37% to 40% range since mid-June".

2) From the U.K.: "Britain should take a much more robust and independent approach to the United States, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today, which finds strong public opposition to Tony Blair's close working relationship with President Bush... Just 30% think the prime minister has got the relationship about right, against 63% saying he has tied Britain too closely to the US."

The message: Bush is unpopular at home and Blair, also unpopular at home, should distance himself from him. Were Blair to do so, would his own popularity increase? Quite likely -- despite a variety of domestic problems that along with Iraq and his relationship with Bush have brought him down.

Kevin Drum: "Isn't that amazing? Blair's longtime subservience to Bush coupled with his apparent inability to influence U.S. policy in any way (the supposed justification for tagging along with Bush) has never been more apparent, and yet 30% of the country still thinks Blair's relationship with Bush is 'about right.' I wonder what it would take to convince them otherwise?"

I suspect it would take something along the lines of a same-sex liaison of some kind to convince them that the two leaders are getting a little too close for political comfort. Or perhaps their shell of ignorance is simply impenetrable.

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Framing the citizens

Guest post by Greg Prince

Apparently it's not bad enough that in the name of "security" they're giving grandma a body-cavity check before boarding the airplane. Now, even if you've done nothing, you can wind up on watch lists just to fill a quota:

You could be on a secret government database or watch list for simply taking a picture on an airplane. Some federal air marshals say they're reporting your actions to meet a quota, even though some top officials deny it.

The air marshals, whose identities are being concealed, told 7NEWS that they're required to submit at least one report a month. If they don't, there's no raise, no bonus, no awards and no special assignments.

"Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft... and they did nothing wrong," said one federal air marshal.

Just when you think it can't possibly get worse, the wingnuts, sycophants, and cronies take it one step further.

WHEN are people going to say enough? WHEN is Congress going to stand up to the White House?


Other voices:

LeisureGuy: "Read the whole story -- and be very, very careful of how you act when you travel by air. The government is watching you, and you may well be reported and listed as suspect. Ladies and gentlemen, we are moving quickly to an authoritarian mode of government. Have you noticed? "Papers, please," is a phrase you soon will hear from Gestapo-like uniformed officials, who can stop you for no cause."

Pam Spaulding: "Even as the agency denies having this quota system, some Las Vegas-based air marshals have produced documents linking performance evals to producing SDRs on people. What grinds my *ss is that these clowns are joking about people being flagged for scrutiny that will be hard to undo and could affect them profoundly."

Bruce Schneier: "This is so insane, it can't possibly be true. But again and again, I have been stunned before by the stupidity of the Department of Homeland Security."

Ed Brayton: "Look, we all know that we have to have watchlists. Law enforcement has to communicate the identities of people who need to be watched as potential risks. But in the wake of 9/11, our government seems to be making no effort at all to avoid false positives; in fact, they appear to be encouraging them. They are using the pretext of terrorism the same way they used the communist threat during the cold war, as an excuse to go after groups that oppose them politically. Thus, the Pentagon's surveillance and infiltration of peace groups, modeled after the FBI's treatment of legitimate civil rights groups in the 60s. Sadly, the public doesn’t seem to care."

See also BoingBoing, Pandagon, and Reality Me.

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Death in Lebanon

Of all the photos I've seen in recent days, this one stands out. These coffins contain the bodies of 72 victims of the conflict, all laid to rest in a mass grave in Tyre, Lebanon.

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Maliki's bubble

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has said this to the BBC: "The Iraqi security forces are actually leading battles, and at the end of the year you will witness major progress in Iraqis being independent and not needing foreign troops."

And this: "There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders have succeeded and they are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue."

And this: "We are confident that we will confront terrorism and the violence that is in Iraq."

And this: "They are able to accommodate and persevere. There are signs of victory and Iraqis will still be patient and will stay with us until victory is achieved."

Sounds like he's getting all the latest talking points from Bush's bubble in the West Wing. I'm sure he knows much more than I do about what's going on in Iraq, but his optimism heading into meetings with Bush and Blair seems forced, as if he's just saying what those two want to hear.

I, too, would like to see foreign troops leave Iraq, when the time is right, but Maliki's vision of Iraq's present and near-future seems to be a fantasy. I wonder if the White House sent along some rose-coloured glasses with the talking points.

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"This is by far the most serious challenge that we face or have ever faced"

Al Gore on global warming, speaking at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.

"None of the other ones will matter if we don't get this right."

Absolutely. But do we have the will, the collective will, to get it right, to do what we must, to stand up to the challenge and overcome this potentially cataclysmic threat to our planet?

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Rice in Beirut

As you may know already, Condi Rice has gone to Beirut to seek a resolution to the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah crisis. WaPo reports:

On an unannounced trip to ravaged Beirut, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice outlined a plan Monday to deploy an international force, possibly led by NATO, in a buffer zone just inside Lebanon for 60 to 90 days, after which it would expand its mission to help the Lebanese army regain control of the south, Lebanese and U.S. officials said.

But the prospects don't look good:

Rice's plan to end the conflict, prop up the Lebanese government and weaken Hezbollah was greeted with skepticism by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's top elected Shiite official, and other leaders. Siniora and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, a Shiite with close ties to Hezbollah, warned that Hezbollah was unlikely to accept any foreign military presence in its traditional stronghold in heavily Shiite southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has already rejected calls to disarm.

Meanwhile, also from WaPo: "The Saudi foreign minister personally urged President Bush yesterday to intervene to stop the violence in Lebanon, the most direct sign of mounting frustration among key Arab states with what they see as a hands-off U.S. posture toward Israeli strikes against Hezbollah."

With no ceasefire in sight, the Israeli offensive in Lebanon continues and, according to Haaretz, Hezbollah has launched many more missiles at northern Israel, hitting civilian targets.

No commentary tonight. What we need is a breakthrough of some kind.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Buckley on Bush 2

Once again, conservative godfather William F. Buckley has come out against President Bush, arguing in an interview with CBS's Thalia Assuras that he isn't really much of a conservative at all:

I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology — with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress. And in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge.

I've spent a good deal of time studying conservatism over the years, but I'm not sure exactly what an effective conservative ideology would be. An emphasis on small government? Maybe, but much of modern conservatism amounts to little more than sloganeering against liberalism. What does small-government conservatism mean in practice? Certainly nothing Americans, or any other liberal people, would want.

Regardless, I agree that Bush isn't much of a conservative. His social conservatism -- opposition to stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, for example -- seems like an ongoing effort to pander to a rabid base rather than the expression of genuine conviction, while his neoconservatism in foreign policy isn't really conservatism at all (which is Buckley's main point here). His business-friendly policies with respect to taxation and regulation are conservative only insofar as conservatism may include, or allow for, some degree of corporatism -- in this sense, Bush is a conservative oligarch looking to boost the fortunes of his own class at the expense of the people.

One more thing. Buckley is surely right about this: "If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign." The American system is different than the European parliamentary ones, of course, but wouldn't it be nice to have Bush held accountable the way parliamentary leaders are? There's no way he would have been able to hold on to the confidence of parliament given what he's done (and failed to do) along the way.

(For more, Buckley on Bush 1 is here.)

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Guns and poppies: The coming anarchy in Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan? I won't blame you if you don't. It's hard to see it through the fog of war in Iraq and Lebanon, not to mention through the fall-out of nuclear crisis in Iran and North Korea. Not so long ago, Afghanistan was the focus of much of our attention. After 9/11, the U.S. went in and routed the al Qaeda-friendly Taliban, or at least sent Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and their supporters scurrying into the mountains and across the border into Pakistan, a short war of revenge that was neither lost nor entirely won.

And yet there was optimism. In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush said this:

The American flag flies again over our embassy in Kabul. Terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay. (Applause.) And terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own. (Applause.)

America and Afghanistan are now allies against terror. We'll be partners in rebuilding that country. And this evening we welcome the distinguished interim leader of a liberated Afghanistan: Chairman Hamid Karzai. (Applause.)

The last time we met in this chamber, the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes, forbidden from working or going to school. Today women are free, and are part of Afghanistan's new government. And we welcome the new Minister of Women's Affairs, Doctor Sima Samar. (Applause.)

Our progress is a tribute to the spirit of the Afghan people, to the resolve of our coalition, and to the might of the United States military. (Applause.)

There had been some success and there was, back on the American homefront, much applause, much self-congratulation. Karzai was elected president in 2004, although, given the weakness of his government and the strength of the warlords who control the rest of the country, he is more mayor of Kabul than president of Afghanistan. Here's President Bush in this year's State of the Union address:

We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan, where a fine President and a National Assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy.

He also mentioned, almost in passing, "women lining up to vote," but that was all there was about Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is still out there somewhere, as is Mullah Omar, as are many of their supporters, but Afghanistan is no longer the focus of our attention. Bush's war in Iraq was the major distraction, but Afghanistan just isn't enough of an it-story anymore. It has been eclipsed by seemingly more immediate concerns from the Middle East to the Far East, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Japan.

Which is partly why it should come as no surprise to learn that Afghanistan is sliding into anarchy, as The Guardian reports:

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.

(I recommend the entire article.) There are men and women in Afghanistan, both Afghanis themselves and military personnel from around the world, who have been tasked with the unenviable job of trying to bring stability to a historically unstable land, of providing security where there is little but lawlessness. They are doing extraordinary work under difficult conditions. It would be unfair of me to say that they've been forgotten -- we Canadians closely monitor the exploits of our own forces in Afghanistan (and mourn the loss of the fallen), as I have done here -- but we need to do more, our governments need to do more, if that country isn't to collapse entirely.

Given the sacrifices that have been made, the costs of going to war to liberate Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban and al Qaeda, that would be a great tragedy indeed.

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