Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bush the torturer

It's now clear. President Bush supports torture, he enables torture, and he is, by extension, a torturer himself. These three posts are must-reads, particularly the first:

Marty Lederman: "In his impassioned press conference yesterday, the President acknowledged that the Hamdan decision, by clarifying that Common Article 3 applies to the conflict with Al Qaeda, had rendered the CIA's 'program' of 'alternative' interrogation techniques unlawful, and that unless the Administration's bill is enacted, 'the program' cannot lawfully continue... If the President sincerely wanted 'clarity' and 'definite standards' for the CIA as well, as he professes, that would be quite a simple thing to accomplish: Akin to what the Pentagon has recently done in the Army Field Manual, Congress could simply specify in the statute that waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and threats are categorically forbidden. What are the odds the White House would accede to such 'clarity'?"

Extemely high. Don't bet on it.

Bradford Plumer: "In reality, McCain, Graham, and Warner are pushing a bill in the Senate that somewhat curtails Bush's power. But it still gives him, say, 80 percent of what he wants. And what he wants is appalling. The GOP bill would strip habeas corpus rights for any alien who has been 'properly detained as an enemy combatant' (even detainees, hilzoy reminds us, who aren't actually threats) and eliminate their right to challenge their detention in court. Even if they're innocent, as detainees commonly are. It would also weaken the definition of 'war crimes,' making only 'grave breach[es]' of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention a no-no, rather than any violation whatsoever."

Appalling indeed. At least these three Republican senators are doing something, even if that something isn't nearly enough. I reiterate my argument that we need, now more than ever, a Democratic Congress.

Andrew Sullivan: "This is why McCain, Warner, Graham, Powell and every decent, sane conservative with military experience refuse to give in [but see Plumer's argument above]. There is already clarity in the law, the Geneva Convention, and the McCain Amendment. What the Bush administration wants is to introduce vagueness to get away with exactly the same barabarism they have deploying illegally for the past five years. They must be stopped. And eventually, they must be prosecuted for war crimes."


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Target: Bush

A report by Adam Nagourney in today's NYT states the obvious. Democrats are targeting Bush as the November midterms approach:

From Rhode Island to New Mexico, from Connecticut to Tennessee, President Bush is emerging as the marquee name in this fall’s Congressional elections — courtesy not of his Republican Party but of the Democrats.

A review of dozens of campaign commercials finds that Mr. Bush has become the star of the Democrats’ advertisement war this fall. He is pictured standing alone and next to Republican senators and members of Congress, his name intoned by ominous-sounding announcers. Republican candidates are damned in the advertisements by the number of times they have voted with Mr. Bush in Congress.

According to the Democrats' meta-strategy, local races, including those for the House and Senate, should be referendums on Bush. In other words, in 2006, all politics should be national politics.

Here's how Slate's John Dickerson put it the other day in a piece on Chafee's primary win in Rhode Island: "Democrats want November to be about the unpopular George Bush and Republican majority. Republicans want it to be about local issues."

Which, when you think about it, is an admission on the Republicans' part of the failure of the Bush presidency (and if Iraq in particular). This isn't just about bad poll numbers. It's about bad policies, policies that have turned much of the party against the president (as on torture and tribunals, for example).

Look for races to get dirty as Republicans run against both Bush and the Democrats -- that is, where they haven't gotten dirty already (as in Rhode Island, for example, where, to quote Dickerson again, "[n]othing brings local focus to a race better than a knee to the groin").

Knees to the groin.

There's your Republican campaign strategy for 2006. (Although, like The (liberal) Girl Next Door, I'm not sure why anyone would vote Republican anyway.)

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On the fly

By Creature

Call it a ring, call it a moat, call it a trench, call it a checkpoint, call it a berm, a barrier, a fence. You may call the new adjustment in tactics around Baghdad whatever you like, I will call it a failure. Three years in and they are still fighting this war on the fly:

Such efforts [the moats etc] are among the methods that counterinsurgency experts recommend to gain control over population movements. Yet some analysts also say that the United States has never taken what many of them contend is an essential first step: conducting a thorough census, then issuing identity cards and requiring all people to carry them at all times.

Of course no census was taken because there was no need to plan for an aftermath that was supposed to be one big Iraqi hugfest.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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How could anyone still vote Republican?

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

How can it not bother your average American Republican leaning voter that the Congress chooses which bills it will take up depending on what is politically advantageous to them? It is appalling that with all the important work left undone by this Congress that they would give up completely on accomplishing anything meaningful and instead pass puff legislation that they think will win them votes. It’s not as if there isn’t enough to do, hell, New Orleans is still in shambles over a year after hurricane Katrina, how about spending some time on that? And how can Republican voters sit idly by while this President further erodes any moral authority we may have left by pushing legislation that allows for the torture of prisoners? When will the Republican rank and file turn on their party that has abandoned all sense of decency, honor and responsibility?

At this point, I don’t even care that
the biggest factor that may motivate Republican voters to stay home on Election Day is the fiscal irresponsibility of the current GOP led Congress and this Republican President. If illegal wars, lying to Congress AND the American people, spying on American citizens without cause or warrant, torturing prisoners in violation of Geneva Conventions, political payback that includes exposing undercover CIA agents working on nuclear proliferation, walking away from an American city that was destroyed by a hurricane and failing to implement even the most basic security measures at our ports are not enough, then by all means, boot these thugs out of office because they’ve been irresponsible with our tax dollars. For me it doesn’t even make the short list of the worst things they’ve done, but whatever gets them out of office sooner rather than latter is fine by me. Then the real work of convincing Democrats that we are serious can begin. Liberals haven’t done a great job of holding the Democrats’ feet to the fire in the past, but let’s hope this time is different. Democrats taking over Congress in November will merely be the beginning of the fight to right this country, even they will provide significant resistance to what the people really need and want.

And at this point, Democrats taking over even one chamber of Congress is a big IF. The public selling of GOP control is on and cable news is working diligently to prop up this President and boost the moral of Republicans. Last night on Hardball, Chris Matthews and his rabid protégé Norah O’Donnell spent nearly 20 minutes talking about Bush’s surging poll numbers, Cheney’s “amazing” political abilities and the masterful playing of the news cycle by the Republicans. Of course, all the while they dished out Republican talking points of the Democrats being “confused” and “without a message”. The voters may be ready to toss the bums out, but if the media can successfully tie the anger at the GOP with anger toward incumbents, nothing much will change. In order to keep control of Congress, the GOP will need Chris Matthews, Norah O’Donnell and the rest of the press lapdogs to push the “pox on both your houses” meme. If you’ve noticed the phrase being bandied about occasionally, brace yourself, I have a feeling it will be repeated ad nauseam until November.

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

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Gearing up for war with Iran

Yes, it looks "like prewar Iraq all over again," in the words of one former nuclear inspector.

Republican Peter Hoekstra's House Intelligence Committee has issued a report claiming that "Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz". In a letter to Hoekstra, The Washington Post is reporting, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called that claim "incorrect".

This "the first time the IAEA has publicly disputed U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the committee's 29-page report, which said Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown." The Natanz claims is one of those errors: "[W]eapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring." In other words, Iran is not producing weapons-grade uranium at its Natanz facility. (For more on Iran's uranium enrichment, see here.)

Some intelligence officials go further in their critique of the Committee's report, which was "never voted on or discussed by the full committee". These officials "said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate". Negroponte's office may or may not have reviewed the report, as Hoekstra is claiming, but the report's implicit allegation that Iran is an imminent threat -- one so grave that it may warrant a military response from the U.S. -- is not just misleading but wrong.

According to the IAEA, the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements". Parts of it are "outrageous and dishonest". Iran's nuclear program is indeed a problem and it may very well be, bluff notwithstanding, that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons. If diplomacy and/or sanctions don't work, perhaps some form of military action will be necessary at some point in the future. But given the lessons learned from the run-up to war with Iraq, that is, that not all intelligence is to be believed and that, more seriously, political leaders can and do fit the intelligence to the policy, misleading the American people on Iran is simply irresponsible. Worse, it's downright nefarious. Hoekstra has evidently learned nothing from the Iraq experience and now wishes to push the U.S. into a largely unpredictable military conflict with Iran. How else to explain his report's gross misrepresentation of the facts? Surely ignorance alone was not the culprit.

Whatever happens between the U.S. and Iran, it is of the utmost importance that history not repeat itself. Iraq has destroyed the credibility of the war's architects, from Bush right on down through his administration. It has been a war fought upon the basis of faulty and misrepresented intelligence, upon a flimsy foundation of fabrication. The architects of a would-be war with Iran seem to be similar misrepresenters of the truth. Iran must be dealt with in some way, preferably through diplomacy, but the response to its nuclear program ought to account for the state of that program. If Iran isn't an imminent nuclear threat -- and the IAEA seems to be asserting that it isn't -- then there is still time for diplomacy, still time to work out a peaceful solution to this alleged crisis.

And is that not a preferable alternative to military action? War, after all, is hardly the sort of thing that should be entered into prematurely and upon the basis of a lie.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Checks, balances, and tribunals

Alright, it's time to give the Senate, including a few of its Republican members, some credit. Finally, it seems, that august body, a repository of deliberative democracy, is performing its constitutionally mandated role of checker and balancer of the executive branch, that is, of Bush. There's been an awful lot of kowtowing and rubber stamping over the past five years, with Bush using the war on terror to justify, inter alia, detainee mistreatment and torture, secret prisons, illegal eavesdropping, an assault on the free press, and the ongoing disaster that is the Iraq War.

But enough is enough, at least when it comes to tribunals and torture. CNN reports:

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday voted 15-9 to recommend a bill -- over the objections of the Bush administration -- that would authorize tribunals for terror suspects in a way that it says would protect suspects' rights.

The bill was backed by Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

It differs from the administration's proposal in two major ways: It would permit terror suspects to view classified evidence against them and does not include a proposal that critics say reinterprets a Geneva Conventions rule that prohibits cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees.

Which is quite promising, of course. What isn't promising is that nine senators on the Committee voted against the bill, that is, with and for Bush. Checking and balancing -- and standing up for basic human rights and against the brutal depravity of torture -- is for the Democrats and a few Republican renegades who dare challenge the White House. The bulk of the GOP, it seems, will continue to kowtow and rubber stamp.


According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Colin Powell has "endorsed efforts by three Republican senators [not to mention all those Democratic ones] to block President Bush's plan to authorize harsh interrogations of terror suspects" -- that is, he sides with Warner, McCain, Graham, and the majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for human rights and against torture. (See also The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, MSNBC, Time, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, and the BBC -- yes, it's getting a lot of coverage.)

Whatever his past errors, and one thinks back to his infamous U.N. presentation that made the case for the Iraq War, he is a man of honour and conviction. And he's right on this: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Beginning? I would say the doubt is everywhere. Because of Bush, much of the rest of the world, much of America, has come to doubt the United States. This attempt to block Bush is an attempt to restore America's moral authority and to wage the war on terror without sacrificing America's values. Democrats are prepared to do that, as are, in this case, a few key Republicans.

This is a start, yes, and it ought to be applauded, but it's clearly time for a Democratic Congress. Only if -- and when -- Democrats control the House and the Senate will this Republican president be effectively checked and balanced by the direct representatives of the American people.


For more, see Think Progress, The Carpetbagger Report, TAPPED, AMERICAblog, Taylor Marsh, The Left Coaster, The Heretik, and Andrew Sullivan.

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Child slavery in Dubai (for camel racing)

A disturbing story from the BBC:

Dubai's ruler has been accused of enslaving thousands of young children for camel races in a class-action lawsuit filed in the US.

The action claims Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, his brother Hamdam and 500 others are responsible for abducting and trafficking the children...

The two, along with the other 500 defendants who the suit says are as yet unknown, face nine counts.

They include engaging in slavery, conspiring to engage in slavery, engaging in or facilitating child labour, battery, assault, infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.

Yes, that's right. The allegation is that children from the Sudan, Bangladesh, and South Asia are being enslaved to be camel jockeys (though "[t]he use of child camel jockeys was banned in Dubai 13 years ago").

Is it true? We'll have to see. But it all seems quite credible, doesn't it?

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Bolton to the end

Is it really over for John Bolton at the U.N., as I reported -- hopefully, gleefully -- last Saturday? One would think so, given that his nomination, according to WaPo, "appears increasingly endangered in the Senate".

But it ain't over yet. For it seems that the White House is "[exploring] other ways to keep him in the job after his temporary appointment expires in January".

Other ways? Like what?

WaPo refers to "a lobbying campaign," one directed specifically at Sen. Lincoln Chafee, but why stop there? Perhaps the best way to keep Bolton at the U.N. would be to suspend democracy. I mean, that wouldn't be too much of a stretch, would it? By doing away with the Senate's constitutional role as adviser and consenter, indeed, by circumventing the Senate altogether, the White House could get what it wants without all the fuss, hassle, and bother of having to deal with what it evidently considers to be a lesser, submissive branch of government.

The Constitution be damned! This is war!

When it happens, give me some credit for having called it first.

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As many of you may know by now, a gunman opened fire at Dawson College in Montreal yesterday, killing one and wounding twenty.

Montreal's The Gazette has the story here.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An obstacle to peace: The nature and degree of Iraqi sectarianism

(Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XIII, part of our ongoing series.)

I turn to the BBC for a report of today's carnage in Baghdad:

Iraqi police say they have found in the space of one day 60 bodies of people bound, tortured and shot in the capital, Baghdad.

They were found all over the city, from Sunni areas in the west to Shia districts in the east -- but most were found in largely Sunni west Baghdad.

Sectarian killings are not unusual in the city but this is a large number for one day, a BBC correspondent says.

Meanwhile, car bombs killed at least 22 people in Baghdad.

The Washington Post has more (relegated to Page A16): "Nearly 100 people were killed or found dead in a series of bloody incidents throughout the Iraqi capital over the past 24 hours, authorities said." This includes "[s]ixty-two bullet-riddled corpses -- some of them beheaded and all bearing signs of torture" -- all part of "a wave of sectarian violence that has defied American efforts to thwart the carnage".

Would more U.S. troops help? That's what two prominent conservatives, The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and National Review's Rich Lowry, argued yesterday in the Post: "Where more U.S. troops have been deployed, the situation has gotten better. Those neighborhoods intensively patrolled by Americans are safer and more secure... More U.S. troops in Iraq would improve our chances of winning a decisive battle at a decisive moment."

I have supported the deployment of more troops in Iraq, and particularly in Baghdad, in the past. Whether going to war in the first place was the right thing to do or not -- and like many hawkish liberals I'm now against a war that I initially supported -- the failure to deploy a sufficient number of troops in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime, that is, for the occupation, has been one the most glaring mistakes committed by those who are responsible for this war.

It may now be too late, however. The deployment of more U.S. troops would likely be extremely unpopular domestically. Bush, it seems to me, would be foolish to send over more troops with the midterm elections less than two months away. Republicans would likely find that position indefensible with the electorate. More, it seems unlikely that the Iraqi government would support the presence of more U.S. troops. Should Bush force the Iraqis to accept an even greater U.S presence even after the failures of the occupation thus far?

Kristol and Lowry generally ignore these concerns, but one key problem with their argument, in my view, is an underestimation of the severity of the sectarian divides that have re-emerged in Iraq since Saddam's fall. Saddam had generally controlled those sectarian differences through heavy-handed brutality, as well as through a system that established the Sunnis as the dominant sect, one that brutalized both the Shiites and the Kurds. The collapse of Saddam's regime brought an end to that brutality but unleashed the sectarianism that had been controlled and that now tears Iraq apart.

During the occupation, the U.S. military has essentially taken over the position previously held by Saddam's regime. That is, it has been tasked with controlling, or at least policing, Iraq's sectarianism. No, the U.S. doesn't officially favour one sect over the other, nor, Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, does it brutalize the country in order to sustain itself in power. The U.S., in that regard, is not Saddam. But the U.S. is there to keep the peace, at least until the Iraqi government can take over, and such peacekeeping necessarily requires wading into the sectarianism that exploded after Saddam's fall.

The question is, is it possible for the U.S. to keep the peace? I have my doubts. First, the U.S. is viewed by many as a foreign occupier. Second, the sectarian violence is connected to an insurgency that directs much of its violence at the U.S. Third, the sectarian violence has reached such a degree that it may appropriately be called a civil war. At the very least, parts of Iraq have descended into anarchy. This development could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if the U.S. had been prepared for its occupation and the transition from Saddam's regime to that occupation had been, as much as possible, seamless. The failure to send enough troops to Iraq has been a glaring mistake, but the failure to prepare sufficiently for an occupation was an even graver one. The civilian leadership -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz -- failed to anticipate what an occupation would mean, as well as require, because on a more fundamental level they failed to understand Iraq, including the sectarianism that was bound to re-emerge upon Saddam's fall.

Kristol and Lowry also fail to understand this sectarianism, or at least its degree. Political considerations aside, it hardly seems likely that the U.S., even with a larger military presence in Baghdad, could ever keep the peace in the long run. The presence of more troops could provide for a sort of temporary peace, but eventually those troops, or at least many or most of them, would have to leave. The U.S. can't remain in Iraq in indefinitely, at least not with enough troops to keep the peace. Again, a seamless transition from Saddam to the U.S. (or some sort of allied force) in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's fall might have worked, but even that might not have been enough to control the sectarianism that was about to erupt all over Iraq, not just in Baghdad.

Kristol and Lowry claim that "American troops are more trusted and more welcome than Iraqis" and that "the chief fear of Iraqis in Baghdad neighborhoods patrolled by Americans is apparently that we will leave, not that we will remain". Is this true? Maybe for some Iraqis, but certainly not for all of them -- and certainly not for Iraqi nationalists and for those on all sides who are perpetrating and supporting the sectarian violence. The divides are deep, after all. They are religious, not merely political. It is simply naive to think that the presence of U.S. troops, even of many more of them, would overcome them.

So what to do? I don't know. The sectarianism is there to stay, with or without a U.S. presence, no matter what its size. Pulling out could lead to even greater chaos, but so could staying and so could sending more troops. The only hope is for a legitimate Iraqi government to police the country on its own or with minimal support from the U.S. and others. But is it too late even for that? And how long would it take for an Iraqi government to establish itself to the point where it would not just be seen as legitimate by the Iraqi people but where it could control the sectarianism that is anathema to peace and good governance?

The reality of Iraq -- past, present, and future -- may or may not be too much of an obstacle to overcome. Perhaps peace in Iraq will only come with a new political arrangement that decentralizes authority and allows the different sects to govern themselves as they see fit. Regardless, sending in more U.S. troops to control the sectarianism, to police Iraq so that the Iraqi government could secure legitimacy and authority of its own, wouldn't necessarily help and could ultimately exacerbate the "crisis" that has thrown Iraq into turmoil.


For more on the issue of troop levels in Iraq, see Kevin Drum, Atrios, and Matthew Yglesias.


Update (9/15/06): At Slate, Daniel Benjamin and Michèle A. Flournoy argue that "[i]t isn't clear that any conceivable increase in troops could stem the tide of sectarian violence". And: "The only problem with Kristol and Lowry's recommendation is that it is premised on an illusion: In fact, there are no more troops to send to Iraq" (italics mine). Read the whole piece.

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The un-American constitutionalism of John Yoo

If you're not quite aware of the extent of the damage the Bush Administration and its legal underpinners intend to inflict on the United States before they're done, you ought to check out Glenn Greenwald's post from the other day on former Justice Dept. official and current Berkeley law professor John Yoo's views on the separation of powers in times of war and peace.

Glenn quotes an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that quotes Woo:

We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.

I see two main problems with this view:

1) As Glenn rightly argues: "[I]t's always the case in America (or at least it used to be) that 'Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them.' That's pretty fundamental to how our country works. In fact, the whole structure of the Constitution is based on that system — not just the 'Peacetime Constitution' we have, but the actual Constitution itself.

Indeed, the constitutionalism that Yoo espouses isn't really American at all: "[The] arrangement [of the separation of powrs and of checks and balances] isn't really a side detail or something that shifts based on circumstance. It's pretty fundamental to the whole system. In fact, if you change that formula, it isn't really the American system of government anymore."

2) It may be argued that a temporary shift of gravity to the executive branch is justifiable in a time of crisis. But, even here, the president would not be constitutionally permitted either to enact laws or to interpret them. The president is, after all, neither a legislator nor a judge. The implication that he (or she) is executor, legislator, and judge is nothing more than a recipe for tyranny. Every schoolchild in American knows better (or should know, if so many weren't being left behind).

Theorists like Yoo – along with practitioners like Cheney advisor
David Addington – have long argued for a unitary executive. It is their intention to re-expand presidential power in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate age. But the problem is not just Bush’s willful lawbreaking itself but that such lawbreaking may go on indefinitely.

This is, after all, a time of war — a long war, a perpetual war. So are we told. So are we threated. The terrorists, however identified, are not about to surrender. Terror, however defined, is not about to end.

The facile Machiavellianism that forms the dark side of Bush's worldview (the one shared, ironically or not, by much smarter people like Yoo and Addington), the other being Manichaean idealism, holds that there is no peace, only war, that times of peace are only interludes between wars, that, in fact, life is war — the life of the Lockean individual in the marketplace, the life of the sovereign state in the geopolitical arena, the life of America in a hostile world.

Given this worldview, Yoo's formulation of the distinction between wartime and peacetime constitutionalism breaks down and becomes one. If there is only war, there is only wartime constitutionalism. Legislators may still enact laws (presumably) and judges may still interpret them (presumably), but the shift of gravity to the executive branch, to the Oval Office, is total. The presidency rises above Congress and the courts, American constitutionalism is un-Americanized, and such quaint notions as the separation of powers and checks and balances go the way of the Geneva Conventions — they get in the way, and must therefore be abandoned.

In Bush's America, the America dreamed up by people like Yoo and Addington and implemented by people like Cheney and the Republican rubber-stampers in Congress, the president enacts laws, interprets laws, ignores law, and is essentially a law into himself (or herself).

Don't think this isn't possible. It's happening right now.

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Sectarian violence, sectarian dating

WaPo had an interesting story up yesterday on how the ravages of war in Iraq are affecting, of all things, Baghdad's dating scene. Didn't think Baghdad had much of a dating scene? Well, it does, and it makes sense that the vicious sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites, the one that sends so many bodies to the morgue, often so many more than reported, would produce casualties of love:

For decades, marriages between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq were as ordinary as the daily call to prayer. But the sectarian warfare gripping the country has created a powerful barrier to Sunni-Shiite romances.Married couples have filed for divorce rather than face the scorn of their neighbors. Fiances have split up as a result of death threats. And, increasingly, young single Iraqis have concluded that it is simply easier to stick to their own kind when it comes to love and family.

In a country where intermarriage was long considered the glue that held a fragile multi-ethnic society together, the romantic segregation of Sunnis and Shiites is more than just a reflection of the ever more hate-filled chasm between the two groups. It is also a grim foreboding of the future.

And it isn't just dating:

The new taboo on Sunni-Shiite romances is only one of many impediments to love in this war-ravaged country. Religious authorities have forbidden casual dating. Women fearful of the bloodshed have become prisoners in their own homes. Couples have shunned posh restaurants once filled with lovebirds because they fear suicide bombers or kidnappers.

Don't misunderstand me. This is not an argument in favour of Saddam-style tyranny, nor an argument that life for Iraqis was so much better under Saddam than it is today. After all, like Tito in Yugoslavia, Saddam controlled long-standing sectarian strife with heavy-handed brutality. That is hardly the desired alternative to the chaotic retribalization that has gripped Iraq since Saddam's fall.

No, what this is is just one more facet — and on a socio-cultural level a deeply important one — of the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, rejuvenated sectarianism, that threatens to block the "new" Iraq's progress towards anything even remotely resembling liberal democracy.

I wonder if President Bush worries about Baghdad's dating scene. It may not cross his mind, but he might want to think about the deeper problem its recent transformation reflects.

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Deconstructing Dubya

I had intended Monday night (or yesterday) to write some stirring response to the president's 9/11 address. But it was all so predictable, so divisive, so self-serving that, upon reflection, I just didn't see the point. What did he say that we hadn't heard before, the eternal recurrence of the same old nonsense? What could I have said that I and many others hadn't said before, over and over again, often to the point of exhaustion and frustration?

In the end, I preferred to welcome back Stewart and Colbert from their two-week post-Emmy break. (Where would we be without them to keep us laughing?) The former's Bush-on-Osama montage, which highlighted the president's web of contradiction and untruth, was particularly hilarious (in that typically disturbing sort of way) -- click on the link for the video.

Some of my response to Bush's address has come in the posts I put up yesterday (with more coming today -- stay tuned), but let me also send you over to visit our guest blogger Edward Copeland, who has deciphered Bush's speech line by misleading line. His analysis, it seems to me, uncovers what Bush was really saying last night.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Beebe extends lead in Arkansas; Cantwell leaps ahead in Washington

A new Rasmussen poll puts Democrat Mike Beebe ahead of Republican Asa Hutchinson by 11 points in the Arkansas gubernatorial race, 49% to 38%, the first time the lead has been in double digits since May.

Both candidates have the support of party loyalists, but this could be the difference-maker: "When asked whom they trust more on matters relating to national security and Iraq, 48% say the Democrats in Congress and 43% say President Bush. When the same question is asked of the economy, respondents are more decided: 51% trust Congressional Democrats and 38% trust the president."

Those are some incredible numbers — Incredible? Actually, I find them quite credible. Aside from "values"-oriented wedge issues like same-sex marriage, Bush has governed (sorry, "governed") largely on terrorism and taxes. But even in a generally conservative state like Arkansas, voters have had enough, are saying so to pollsters, and may take it out on Republicans like Hutchinson in November.

No wonder Bush seems so desperate to regain control of the 9/11-terrorism-Iraq narrative.


new Rasmussen poll puts Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell ahead of Republican Mike McGavick by 17 points in the Washington senatorial race, 52% to 35%, a jump of 11 points from a mid-August poll.

Good news indeed.

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Republican malaise: Is Bush losing hold of his party on "the struggle between tyranny and freedom"?

Earlier today, while I was guest blogging at The Carpetbagger Report, a commenter asked about conservative reaction to Bush's 9/11/06 address. He wondered if Bush's "guaranteeing freedom and democracy for the Mideast" doesn't "frighten them" -- conservatives, that is.

Shortly thereafter, John Dickerson's latest piece was posted at
Slate. It looks at Bush's message and how Republicans might respond to it.

Here's what Bush is trying to do:

This was the culminating moment of a two-week effort to explain what's really at stake in the war on terror. President Bush used the broadest language possible. America is engaged in a battle for civilization and a defining mission of our generation. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represent only the "early hour of the struggle between tyranny and freedom." By talking about the wide sweep of the conflict, Bush and his Republican allies hope to rally the country around his policies and frame the national security debate for the remaining days before the election. They are the big-picture party. Democrats may talk about difficulties in Iraq, but Republicans have their eye on the historical prize.

Are Republicans/conservatives into it? Do they buy it?

To fail at the second task of promoting democracy, the president argued, is as dangerous as failing at the first in Iraq. And yet the Republican members of Congress, who will be the stewards of the democracy program after Bush leaves office, don't talk about it much in their stump speeches. They usually mine presidential speeches for their own remarks, but you're not likely to hear them talk about clouds parting this election season. That's understandable. It's tricky enough trying to convince people to relink the war in Iraq to their personal security. It's political suicide to run for office promising an epoch-long battle to turn around the Middle East.

These are the politicians, of course, not the pundits and bloggers. The politicians have to face the electorate in a couple of months, whereas the pundits and bloggers can go on spewing their madness from the comforts of their ideologically pure echo chambers. Rogers Waters once described such militarism as "the bravery of being out of range". He was referring to civilian leadership in times of war, what we now call the chickenhawks, but his description also applies to the chattering class and to those in the blogosphere who seek to remake the world in their own image while wearing their pajamas.

Republican politicians will say the right things when they need money from Bush and the RNC, but, on the whole, they're running away from Bush's self-aggrandizing crusade. Even if they want to "stay the course" in Iraq, many of them surely want nothing of "the struggle between tyranny and freedom". Dickerson is right: That would be "political suicide".

On the blog side, I don't see much. Nothing at
Captain's Quarters, nothing at Balloon Juice (although John Cole dislikes Bush immensely), nothing at Redstate, nothing at Outside the Beltway (although James Joyner criticizes what he stereotypically calls "the radical fringe of the Angry Left" for its remembrance of 9/11 — who says 9/11 hasn't been partisanized?).

Sister Toldjah, whom I get along with quite well even in disagreement, is an exception: "Wow. That’s one of the best speeches the prez. has given on the WOT in a long time."

There you go. Some emotional 9/11 remembrances, some attacks on liberals and Democrats, but not much, if anything at all, about Bush's address. Makes you wonder, eh?

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Canada boosts mission in Afghanistan

It may not seem like much, but Canada is sending more troops and equipment to Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Harper used yesterday's five-year anniversary of 9/11 to
promote Canada's mission in Afghanistan, one of the most controversial policies of his premiership, not least with all the bodybags returning home, but this country, my country, remains deeply divided over whether we should be there at all.

At least he didn't connect 9/11 to Iraq, however. (Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien had the good sense to keep us out of that mess.)

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Happy talk, sad reality

I'm not sure I can put it any better than Steve Soto, who posted this yesterday on the anniversary of 9/11:

Listen to all that happy talk from Bush and Cheney as the fifth anniversary arrives, about how things are getting better in Iraq, and how they wouldn’t do anything differently. Then why is the Marine chief intelligence officer in Iraq saying we have already lost the Anbar province (home to Fallujah and Ramadi, two cities we have tried to take and hold several times already)? If things are going so well and you say you would do nothing differently, why are the Shiites and the Kurds pushing ahead with partitioning plans, after seeing that the central government is impotent and unable to secure either the Sunni center or the Shiite south? And if you wouldn’t do anything differently, why would the Shiites and Kurds do this even if the move costs Iraq its central government and constitution? The fact is that partitioning Iraq, with all its plusses and minuses, is a serious possibility no matter what plan Cheney has for the country.

And while Bush gives speeches today, the big question on this fifth anniversary is
why is Al Qaeda’s Number Two still giving speeches about attacks to come, when any president committed to fighting a war on terror would have made sure that both Number Two and Osama Bin Laden would be dead by now instead of given them free passes at Tora Bora and northern Pakistan? Why is the Vice President sounding like a good German when he says that anyone who dissents from the administration is emboldening terrorists, after saying that 2005 will be seen as the turning point because the faltering Iraqi government came to power, a government that has no presence in the al Anbar province? Is that the only defense you have left Mr. Cheney, to do a Mussolini impersonation to quell critics of your own failures with smears challenging their patriotism? Tell the members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, who have had three tours in five years and have now been extended again to save Baghdad why al-Zawahiri is still alive, and why you encouraged the Pakistanis to harbor Bin Laden nearly five years after Tora Bora when the trail has gone "stone cold".

The happy talk of success is just a thin veneer of partisan political rhetoric that masks a sad reality of failure.

(Cross-posted at The Carpetbagger Report -- with an open discussion in the comments section on 9/11 and the five years since.)

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And the winner is...

By Creature

Hello, Reaction readers. I am interrupting your regularly scheduled blog to bring you some cross-promotion news. My wonderful co-blogger and all around really smart guy,* Ted, has posted his thoughts on the winners and losers in the aftermath of 9/11. I give you one hint: America, not really winning. It's a great post, so I encourage all of you who have not visited State of the Day today (and if you haven't, por que?) to pay a visit and show Ted some blogging love. I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog. Thank you and have a great day.

*Ted did not pay me to say nice things about him. Though the more I rave, the better my birthday gift will be this year. Go me!

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The day after 9/11/06

Vice President Cheney claims that his job "is to think about the unthinkable, to focus upon what in fact the terrorists may have in store for us". And what a good job he claims to have done. Five years after 9/11 and there hasn't been another 9/11.

Cheney credits the Bush Administration's homeland security efforts, particularly:

– "the terrorist surveillance program";
– "the financial tracking"; and
– "our detainee policy".

That is:

– illegal, warrant-less eavesdropping by the NSA;
– an admittedly useful check on money transfers; and
– torture.

And perhaps a whole lot more.

And yet. Just how successful has the Cheney Administration been? How honest is the vice president?

As the Financial Times has put it, "Cheney repeated assertions on Sunday on links between the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda despite a recent Senate intelligence committee report that concluded otherwise".

In focusing on this
mythical relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, between Saddam and Osama, Cheney, Bush, and their apologists are willfully deceiving the American people. In truth, they are lying to them.

For it is Iraq that is the problem. It is Iraq — their war — that has detracted from the so-called war on terror, that is, from America's abilities to deal effectively with the real threat to homeland security, in particular from its efforts in Afghanistan, which is rapidly
descending into anarchy. NATO needs more troops in Afghanistan, but so many of the best troops are stuck in the Iraqi quagmire.

And then there have been the secret prisons in Eastern Europe, the torture at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, Katrina, and Portgate.

All this has left America weaker, not stronger, more vulnerable, not less, more hated, not more loved. America is now perceived more and more to be a cause of the problem of terrorism, not a victim, and certainly not a solution.

Which is why
The Boston Globe editorialized yesterday that "the reaction of the Bush administration may prove more harmful to the national interest than even these horrific attacks". Are the terrorists on the run? Yes, and no: "The long war against the insurgency in Iraq has further inflamed Mideast opinion against the United States without enhancing US security."

Cheney is simply wrong. Dangerously wrong.

For more, go see Steve Clemons, who says that Cheney "did the predictable," "focused American military power recklessly at the wrong targets," "[punctured] America's mystique in the world," and "[exposed] before our allies and our foes both our military and financial limits.

No, there hasn't been another 9/11 since 9/11. There but for the grace of God, as they say.

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The power and principle of Wikipedia

Google caved, but Wikipedia is standing up to the forces of totalitarianism, "[defying] the Chinese government by refusing to bow to censorship of politically sensitive entries".

Of course, Google and Wikipedia aren't the same thing. The one has shareholders, a share price, and market competitiveness to keep in mind. The other is, well, unbridled internet democracy, an amazingly successful experiment in online communication and content.

I still contend that Google, which perhaps can't afford to take uniformly principled stands, did the right thing and that, however controversial, its censored presence in China may yet be the thin end of a wedge that is essential to opening up that country to alternatives to its brutal totalitarianism. And yet I credit Wikipedia for remaining true to itself.

One wonders which approach will prove the more successful in China, that is, which online power will end up doing the most to liberate China from its censorious oppression.

Perhaps -- and hopefully -- the Chinese people will benefit from both in their own way.

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ABC gets a D

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

I've watched about all I can watch of The Path to 9/11. I had been wondering when the purpose behind it would become more obvious than it was on Sunday, and when it was interrupted for a pep talk by the worst president in our history, the wondering stopped.

ABC spent $40,000,000 on this clumsy piece of propaganda and has aired it without apparent commercial sponsorship. Big corporations don't usually give away hours of air time for free. There's a quo for this quid and the network that will not give equal time to someone to counter its opinions will give free time to the Republican National Committee to sell the President's failures as successes. It's free political advertising, and if it isn't illegal we might just as well forget about any notions of a free press.

Yesterday's episode continued to pretend that the reason we were hit by Osama was political correctness and the Bill of Rights, and although it did make reference to Bush's canceling all discussions of terrorism, ABC has allowed Bush to play muezzin, chanting his 9/11 Saddam -- 9/11 Saddam -- 911 Saddam -- 9/11 Saddam call to deception from the minarets of TV broadcasting towers all over the country. Although the "Docudrama" may criticize his administration, it nonetheless praises with faint damnation.

That's what it's all about and that's why they don't bother to get the most elementary facts straight and why they do bother to put fictional conversations and circumstances in front of us. That's why Disney and its running dogs at ABC gave a 40 million dollar gift to George Bush.

As a post at State of the Day put it today (cross-posted here at The Reaction): "I am so sick and tired of the mixed messages meant to confuse. It's not the war on terror that has a nation divided, it's the f**king war in Iraq. Define your war, Mr. President. Define your intentions. Tell the American people how you used one as an excuse for the other and how that was the only connection that ever existed between the two."

I'm not holding my breath.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Where angels fear to tread

Via The Carpetbagger Report:

Read into it what you will. It's fair game.

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Sackcloth and ashes -- the Path to 9/11

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

Make my heart as a millstone,
Set my face as a flint
Cheat and be cheated and die: who knows?
We are ashes and dust

-- Tennyson


If you read the papers today, it's a day of sackcloth and ashes, self-pity and maudlin grief. I wonder how much of that is really a reflection of America's thoughts. More that 150,000 people have died in cars and SUVs since September of 2001. We still drive like incompetent fools. Doesn't America think it's time to do something about Islamic terrorism rather than to rend our clothes in lament for New York and rather than bankrupt the country for a quixotic dream of a Western utopia in Iraq?

The Path to 9/11 -- ABC's propagandistic opus which began last night was a bit less of a singleminded attack on Bill Clinton than I had expected, yet propaganda it was and, as such, it misrepresented many facts while larding the recipe with completely invented dialogues harping on the danger of the Bill of Rights and any squeamish liberal aversions to brutal torture.

The scene where Bill Clinton himself calls off an early attack on Osama's desert hangout was apparently redacted, although the portrayal of exactly who did cancel it seemed ambiguous. Was it Sandy Berger or was it CIA Director George J. Tenet? It was in fact the latter, although the heavy-handed passion play managed to rub sufficient soil on Clinton with background pictures of TV appearances and more fictitious conversations from fictionalized characters.

That the program was fiction and not a documentary was presented to us on screen twice during the two hours, although any motivation behind giving us a fictional account of an important piece of history that is yet to be fully understood by the public was left to conjecture.

ABC did seem to feel that it was necessary to give Richard Clarke a minute or two to explain that it was indeed Tenet who nixed a certain attack and that Osama's hideout was not, as shown in the schlockumentary, an unprotected adobe village out of some John Wayne movie but heavily fortified and replete with tanks and artillery. ABC had just told us that it was fear of shooting Muslim children that has caused the Clinton administration to balk (as though that were weakness). It was also pointed out, much to my surprise, that the Republicans had chastised Clinton when he did fire missiles at the compound and at a plant thought to be producing chemical weapons in Sudan: the famous Monica Missiles.

Of course it remaines to be seen whether ABC's toned-down bit of tendentious historical fiction will mention that upon his ascending to the throne, George W. Bush essentially shut down any effort to study, investigate, or discuss Osama bin Laden, telling the anti-terrorism staff he didn't want to hear about Osama, he wanted to hear about Saddam. Tenet, portrayed as something of a bungler, was, of course, given the Medal of Freedom by George W. "mission accomplished" Bush.

If Clinton did too little and did it too late, and if Clinton was thwarted by the Monica Madness in pursuing and punishing al Qaeda, Bush did nothing and stopped anyone else from doing anything. Will the blame the fictional account places on both presidents be apportioned as it should be: heavily on the cocky shoulders of the "Decider"? Let's see what the Empire of the Mouse has to say about it tonight.

To be continued...



website purporting to contain deleted scenes from The Path to 9/11 is interesting. Of course, it seems to attribute the deletions to pressure from leftists, Democrats, and other less than manly groups and to ignore the fact that some scenes were deleted because they were simply unhistorical -- it never happened that way.

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Define your war

By Creature

Stop conflating.

I am so sick and tired of the mixed messages meant to confuse. It's not the war on terror that has a nation divided, it's the damn war in Iraq. Define your war, Mr. President. Define your intentions. Tell the American people how you used one as an excuse for the other and how that was the only connection that ever existed between the two.

You dishonor the office like no one before you.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Disorder in the White House

Looking for a good read that has nothing to do with football this first Sunday of the 2007 NFL season? (I'm happy, by the way -- the Steelers won on Thursday and my main fantasy team is doing okay.) Then head on over to the blog run by our friend The Heretik, who diagnoses President Bush with "a bad case of OCD":

Obsessive Caliphate Disorder.

What does that mean? Let's just say Bush sees pan-Arabic "pandemonium" where there isn't any. He sees "dominoes about to fall".

The Heretik sums up the problem: "Bush finds himself in a strange place. He won’t speak with the perceived threats to 'our way of life' because that would give them some legitimacy he wants to withhold. But in talking about them in only messianic terms, he props up and magnifies the very threat he would fight. What is he afraid of? Oh, right. You can't talk with madmen. So let them just grow more mad in the silence. A little less OCD and little more oh, see the real world and deal with it would be helpful."

Yes it would. But seeing the world for what it is and dealing with it accordingly is just the sort of realism Bush eschews. He is, after all, a strange mixture of Manichaean idealist and partisan political opportunist. Don't expect anything to change anytime soon.

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Stupid is as stupid doesn't

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

There may be more than one cause of the growing chaos in Iraq but none of the possibilities is called "lack of resolve". The lack of a realistic plan for post-Saddam Iraq may seem hard to explain. It had little to do with any need for haste since there was no need for the war; a fact that has been well enough established to satisfy most anyone but the most jingoistic Bush supporters. The lack of planning stems either from the stupidity of Don Rumsfeld, who perhaps thought that a peaceful, orderly and western liberal democracy would spontaneously emerge, or from the nefarious plan of Don Rumsfeld and the Bush administration, who needed the chaos as part of a war for war's sake, oil's sake, or the sake of power itself. The scenario I find most compelling is the latter, but either way we have quagmire as deep and sticky as was envisioned by cooler, smarter, and more honest heads.

The latest in the long list of retiring generals blowing whistles is Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps. At the time of the 9/11 attacks he had been selected as the chief of logistics war plans and as such could be expected to have an interest in war plans and logistics, but, according to Scheid, Rumsfeld threatened to fire the next person who even talked about the need for a post-war plan. Rumsfeld did make good on that threat by firing Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, for suggesting that a plan should include several hundred thousand troops. Regardless of Rumsfeld's motivations or Rumsfelds secret plans or machinations, this decision, this insistence that we would get in and get out without needing an occupation has been the biggest military blunder since the Vietnam War. Does it really matter if Rumsfeld's decisions were stupid or nefarious? Either way, we lose. Either way, he is a danger.

"The secretary of defense continued to push on us," said Scheid to the
Hampton Roads Daily Press, "that everything we write in our plan has to be the idea that we are going to go in, we're going to take out the regime, and then we're going to leave. We won't stay." We stayed. We may yet stay for years or decades or we may be forced out and have to face the consequences of what our administration has done. Of course, we can press for his resignation, we can vote in enough Democrats this November to impeach George W. Bush, but we still have a very long road ahead of us if we want to survive as a free country in a world that isn't at our throat.

(Ed. note: For our previous post on Scheid and Rumsfeld, see here. -- MJWS)

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Never Forget

By Creature

September 2001 -- a promise made:

''Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country,'' Bush said at 9:30 a.m. to the stunned gathering at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla.

''I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and the families and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act,'' Bush said.

March 2002 -- a promise broken:

On the videotape obtained by the CIA, bin Laden is seen confidently instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie in undetected at night. A bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft can be seen exploding in the distance. "We were there last night," bin Laden says without much concern in his voice. He was in or headed toward Pakistan, counterterrorism officials think.

That was December 2001. Only two months later, Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq, said Flynt L. Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council.

"I was appalled when I learned about it," said Leverett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration's counterterrorism policy. "I don't know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It's very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn't done that."

Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson, writing in today's Washington Post, have more on a trail gone stone cold.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The Path to Legal Jeopardy

By Creature

Will ABC blink? Will the truth prevail? Is Disney trying to get back at the liberals for the whole Pluto downgrade mess? These are big questions. Bigger than little ol' me. So for the latest on everything that is ABC/Disney's based-on-the-truth-my-ass-u-mentary The Path to 9/11 I send you to AMERICAblog. No post link, just start at the top and work your way down. If John Aravosis knows how to do anything, he knows how to make some noise. John.

[Rove Head provided by Atrios. The Rove Head Mutant Pluto photoshopping is all me.]

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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