Saturday, September 23, 2006


By Heraclitus

I promise to try to be more upbeat tomorrow, or at least more entertainingly sarcastic. The post I want to write right now isn't quite as depressing as the others I've written today (genocide, civil war, torture), but it's still not really optimistic. It concerns something that happened about a week ago, which I know is the blogosphere equivalent of about half a century (but I only started blogging this Wednesday!).

You've probably all seen this picture of the lunch Clinton recently had with a group of all-white bloggers in Harlem. The woman standing in the center, in front of Clinton, is named Jessica Valenti; she's an intelligent and talented young writer who's also the driving force behind, a group blog on feminism and women's issues in culture and politics. I've never met Jessica or anyone associated with, so what I'm about to say is not motivated by any sense of personal loyalty or animus.

Jessica's appearance in the picture prompted several blog posts from Ann Althouse, a law professor and blogger at the University of Wisconsin. The first was simply opaque snark. But then Althouse decided to post another entry, with the intelligent and tasteful title "Let's take a closer look at those breasts," and a series of comments in which she let drop pearls of wisdom like "when she goes to meet Clinton, she wears a tight knit top [yes! those sinister knit tops!!] that draws attention to her breasts and stands right in front of him and positions herself to make her breasts as obvious as possible," and "Jessica should have worn a beret. Blue dress would have been good too" (like Monica, of course), and "Jessica looks like Paula Jones (check her profile photo: she does)." When Jessica called Althouse on the blatant sexism of judging her on her looks, Althouse gracefully responded "I'm not judging you by your looks. (Don't flatter yourself.)" Althouse's repellent comments inspired others from right-wing commentors (who we know are always so mature about women and sex), both on her blog and elsewhere. For so many "conservatives" on the internets, riffing on this vile and spiteful little bit of trollery was clearly the most clever thing they would ever be able to do (and apparently everyone who used the word "intern" got a free set of steak knives).

(Althouse also tried to suggest that her own prurience was somehow shared by This is called projection, and it's something that freshmen in high school learn about in psychology class. If you're wondering where the quintessence of banality resides in the universe, it's in the person of Ann Althouse. I've tried hard, so far successfully, not to call her "Outhouse." But I surrender to the inevitable.)

Jessica gives the best explanation of what's wrong with all this on her own blog:

And this whole boobgate bullshit isn’t just about Althouse and her mean-spirited attack. It’s about how young women are routinely reminded that they’re only good for one thing—consumption...This kind of incident is a perfect example of how so many people see women—especially young women. We’re there to be ogled or ridiculed. We have nothing else to offer.

Michael Bérubé’s comments are also very good. So why am I drudging all of this up again, a week late and so many dollars short?

In the first place, because Althouse is, as
Bérubé notes, a bully, and as we all know, the only way to bring a bully to heel is through public humiliation. Althouse deserves to be known for this gratuitous display of butt-ugliness, if not simply as "Outhouse," henceforth (although having to be such a revolting person is clearly her most severe punishment).

But this also raises larger questions about the internet, and blogs, as means of communication. Yes, as right-wing bloggers have been crowing for so long, blogs are "more democratic" than the old days when the MSM was our unquestioned overlord. But blogs also, from everything I can see, tend more than anything to fracture and polarize the political landscape. The internet, and again making allowances here for my necessarily partial perspective, rarely facilitates the easy exchange of information and opinions between formerly opposed groups, as its most enthusiastic proponents claim it does. It instead creates a series of almost hermetically-sealed echo-chambers, in which increasingly radicalized idealogues shout ever more hoarsely to one another about their own perfect virtue and, of course, the Satanic vices of their opponents.

In this atmosphere, political discourse, and indeed any kind of discouse, is constantly being stripped of anything that would make it meaningfully human. The grotesque treatment doled out to Jessica Valenti by Althouse and her spiritually hunch-backed minions is a case in point. An intelligent, articulate, and morally serious person is turned into an occasion for cheap and banal pseudo-jokes by emotionally retarded hacks who know nothing about her. Their behavior was simply sub-human.

If the twentieth century taught us anything, it's that our grip on our own humanity is much more tenuous than any of us would care to admit, and that technology, more often than not, acts to rip us loose from any ethical, humane mooring. While acknowledging, and indeed lauding, the democratic and progressive aspects of blogs and the internet as a news medium, it is also, I think, worth asking whether they make our communications with one another more or less human.

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The terror campaign continues

By Creature

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV, just when you thought the terror-talk train had left the station, just when you thought it was time for the media to bring the national dialogue back around to the failed war in Iraq, the Bush administration stays on schedule, stays on message, stays in control of the news cycle, and most importantly, stays the course with their terror agenda.

Here is a glimpse of what this week's story-line will bring courtesy of MSNBC. Your host is Contessa Brewer, your White House correspondent is Jeannie Ohm, and your writer/director is Karl Rove. The spot begins with a clip from the president's Saturday address and leads into this bit of ass-kissing from your friendly GE affiliate:

BREWER: NBC's Jennie Olm is at the White House. Now, Jennie, we know that terrorism really is topping the president's agenda today, he's going to meet with a couple of key U.S. allies and he's always considered allies a very important part of the war on terror.

OHM: That's right, Contessa. In fact, if you look back, the president started this month by giving a series of speeches on the war on terror, well, now he's taking part in a series of meetings with key allies in that struggle. On Friday he meet with Pakistan's president, this Tuesday he'll meet with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and then he'll be sitting down mid-week with both these leaders to talk about the common goals in the area. He'll also try to smooth relations with the neighbors. Afghanistan has become increasingly critical Pakistan for not doing enough to crack down on the Taliban coming in into that country. In fact, Afghanistan has been dealing with a resurgence of militants, so much so that NATO is now considering sending more troops to that area.

Not only do we get Bush-is-stong-on-terror talk, but we also get the Bush-as-statesmen story-line. Our president relies on his allies (unless they're not "with us"). Our president will "smooth over" a dispute between neighbors (but he won't "smooth over" our dispute with Iran). I swear Karl Rove has this terror message mapped out right up to November 7th. Day by day, cycle by cycle, the script has been written. Whether it's a bogus torture fight in the Senate (and yes, I'm fully in the "it was all staged" camp) or a "bomb you into the stone-age" comment (and yes, I'm convinced Bush is pleased Musharraf said this, it makes Bush look strong), it's all part of the play and, so far, nobody has forgotten their lines.

Hat tip to me for the painful transcription.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The Horror

By Heraclitus

I know I'm not very cheery, but the news out of Iraq couldn't be worse. Well, unless it were more complete; there's little or no reporting from the most violent areas. First, there's this from the BBC: Violence sweeps Iraq on Ramadan. Even worse, however, is the UN's recent report on torture in Iraq. This was also covered by the BBC, under the title "Iraq torture 'worse after Saddam.'" The places of torture include, but are by no means limited to, prisons run by the US.

But the most damning account of what's happening in Iraq is this article in The Independent by Patrick Cockburn. The article should be read in full, but I'm going to quote much of it here. We're way beyond the point of foreign jihadis holed up in Falluja. In most of Baghdad, law and order seem to have broken down completely:
"One US Army major was quoted as saying that Baghdad is now a Hobbesian world where everybody is at war with everybody else and the only protection is self-protection."

But alongside the general chaos and bloodletting anarchy there are Sunni and Shia militias fighting each other, often in the uniforms and with the weapons of the government. It seems ridiculous to call this situation anything other than civil war:

Nobody in Iraq is safe. Buses and cars are stopped at checkpoints and Sunni or Shia are killed after a glance at their identity cards. Many people now carry two sets of identity papers, one Shia and one Sunni. Car number plates showing that it was registered in a Sunni province may be enough to get the driver shot in a Shia neighbourhood. Sectarian civil war is pervasive in Baghdad and central Iraq. Religious processions are frequently attacked. On 19 and 20 August, a Shia religious pilgrimage came under sustained attack that left 20 dead and 300 wounded.

Government ministries are either Shia or Sunni. In Baghdad this month, a television crew filming the morgue had to cower behind a wall because the Shia guards were fighting a gun battle with the Sunni guards of the Electricity Ministry near by.

One thinks, obviously, of Beirut and the Lebanese civil war, and I defer to others on the question of which civil war has seen a more complete evaporation of centralized power. But between the Sunni and Shia militias, what remains of "al-Qaeda in Iraq," foreign operative from Iran, Syria, and who knows where else, the mercenaries, and the US and the official Iraqi government cowering in the Green Zone, Iraq today makes the scene from Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen ("Marlowe") asks the Marines in the middle of the night, "Who's in charge here?," look like an interlude from Little Women.

And then there's the torture:

The brutal tortures committed in the prisons of the regime overthrown in 2003 are being emulated and surpassed in the detention centres of the present US- and British-backed Iraqi government. "Detainees' bodies show signs of beating using electric cables, wounds in different parts of their bodies including in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns," the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq says in a new report.

The bodies in Baghdad's morgue " often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes and wounds caused by power drills or nails", the UN report said. Those not killed by these abuses are shot in the head.

Human rights groups say torture is practised in prisons run by the US as well as those run by the Interior and Defence ministries and the numerous Sunni and Shia militias.

And the general sense that this is hell on earth:

The pervasive use of torture is only one aspect of the utter breakdown of government across Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north. In July and August alone, 6,599 civilians were killed, the UN says.

Iraq is in a state of primal anarchy. Paradoxically, the final collapse of security this summer is masked from the outside world because the country is too dangerous for journalists to report what is happening. Some 134 journalists, mostly Iraqi, have been killed since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The bi-monthly UN report on Iraq is almost the only neutral and objective survey of conditions in the country. The real number of civilians killed in Iraq is probably much higher because, outside Baghdad, deaths are not recorded. The Health Ministry claims, for instance, that in July nobody died violently in al-Anbar province in western Iraq, traditionally the most violent region, but this probably means the violence was so intense that casualty figures could not be collected from the hospitals.

The Iraqi state and much of society have been criminalised. Gangs of gunmen are often described on state television as "wearing police uniforms" . One senior Iraqi minister laughed as he told
The Independent: " Of course they wear police uniforms. They are real policemen."

On 7 September, the Iraqi authorities announced the execution by hanging at Abu Ghraib prison of 27 prisoners, including one woman, convicted of terror and criminal charges. It is the first mass execution since Saddam Hussein's rule.

Ahmed Chalabi, anyone?

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More on Darfur

By: Heraclitus

From the

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has accused Sudan of failing in its responsibility to protect its own citizens in the western Darfur region.

Speaking at a meeting organised on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Ms Rice said time was running out.

"The violence in Darfur is not subsiding, it is getting worse," Ms Rice said.

"If the notion of our responsibility to protect the weakest and most powerless among us is ever to be more than an empty promise, then we must take action to save lives."

Well said. Very well said.

"No one intends to appease the government of Sudan. We intend to act," she said, adding, "There are measures at the disposal of the international community should we not be able to get the agreement of Sudan."

Sounds good to me. Maybe I am a fire-breathing neocon, after all.

Also -- I've never been an admirer of Bill Clinton, but do not miss the transcript Creature linked to earlier (available again here). I wonder what it will look like when it's actually aired on Fox. Visions of Homer Simpson's appearance on "Rock Bottom," to clear himself of the charges of sexual harassment, spring to mind.

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Greatly exaggerated

By Creature

Noam Chomsky is not dead. Osama may be dead. Why do I think the right-wing is disappointed?

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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My pilgrimage

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Just a quick note to let you all know that I'm off to Pittsburgh this weekend for the Roger Waters concert and to see my beloved Steelers for the very first time live. Many of you know of my love for Pink Floyd, but I've also been a Steelers fan since roughly the age of five. Seriously. Growing up in Montreal, I took to football even before hockey, and at the time, the late '70s, there was no other team for me but the Steelers. And it's been that way ever since.

I likely won't blog again until Monday night, but in the meantime I'm leaving The Reaction in the very capable hands of the co-bloggers, particularly Creature and Heraclitus, both of whom will be posting regularly over the next few days. Keep checking back for what I expect will be, as always, posts of exceptional quality. And scroll down for some great posts from the last couple of days -- from both Creature and new co-blogger Heraclitus, and also from guest bloggers Capt. Fogg and Greg Prince -- and, of course, posts from me on such topics as the voter ID legislation that passed the House, the election in Yemen, the tyranny of Hugo Chavez, Iran's nuclear sham, and the coup in Thailand. Among others.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Go Steelers! (And, yes, the lunatic is in my head.)

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Quick Post McGraw

By Creature


Please read it all.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The road to 1984

Guest post by Capt. Fogg

The president who has made such a large straw man of what he likes to call “activist judges,” or judges who use ethics, morality, common sense, precedent and perhaps a bit of pragmatism to interpret the law, is of course the president who feels the need to attach “signing statements” that he feels enable him to enforce, ignore or apply selectively anything the founding fathers wrote into the Constitution or that Congress has written into law.

Along with the briefly vertebrate John McCain, America seems to feel comfortable with the compromise reached Thursday and with having moved closer to a government of men and further from a government of laws, at least as concerns the monarchical moods of George Bush and perhaps America will feel comfortable with the latest exercise in Judicial Activism that would, according to national security adviser Stephen Hadley, provide enough "clarity" to allow the CIA's interrogation program to go forward. I fear that “clarity” means “license” to the mind of Bush.

Without mention of the historical uniqueness of the notion that the Geneva Conventions are inimical to the American way of war and without mentioning the apparent failure so far to produce anything in the way of any advantage in countering militant Islam around the world, Bush yet insists that secret trials, secret prisons, and years of unremitting torment used on people suspected of knowing something is the "most potent tool we have” in order to "get their secrets."

But this is a man who believes in magic, in superstition, in legend and most ridiculously in the special holiness of people who torture, maim, and kill innocent people in the name of Jesus Christ and cultural supremacy. Is it funny that the enemies who came closest to defeating us in the last century and to defeating freedom as we used to define it felt the same way?

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Will on Wal-Mart

Guest post by Greg Prince

George Will had an interesting column recently discussing the politics of Wal-Mart. He points to a suburban store just a block outside of the Chicago city limits and how it's bustling with city shoppers -- and employees. Moreover, jobs are in demand. Over 25,000 applications were received for a mere 325 jobs when this particular store opened last January.

[Wal-Mart's popularity] vexes liberals such as John Kerry. (He and his helpmeet last shopped at Wal-Mart when?) In 2004 he tested what has become one of the Democrats' 2006 themes: Wal-Mart is, he said, "disgraceful" and symbolic of "what’s wrong with America."

Looking at the raw numbers Will cites, Wal-Mart’s influence on the American economy is significant -- and impressive. Wal-Mart:

  • Has about the same number of employees as there are soldiers in the armed forces;
  • Was responsible for about 13% of the nation’s productivity gain in the late 1990s;
  • Saves shoppers over $200 billion (that’s billion) each year;
  • Has about 20% of the nation’s grocery business, and saves its grocery customers about 17%; and
  • Creates on average two jobs for every job lost through its practicies.
Will continues:

Before they went on their bender of indignation about Wal-Mart (customers per week: 127 million), liberals had drummed McDonald's (customers per week: 175 million) out of civilized society because it is making us fat, or something. So, what next? Which preferences of ordinary Americans will liberals, in their role as national scolds, next disapprove? Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?

This captures the essence of Will's point -- silly liberals don’t "get" real Americans. Silly liberals don't "get" what it means to be American. And yet, as is often the case, there's more going on beneath the surface which Will conveniently doesn't bother to address.

A question many have asked, and few on the right burden themselves with thinking about, is why we see a growing economy and a GNP that has grown by leaps and bounds even as wages have been stagnant for the last decades? To an extent it's better to view Wal-Mart as a symptom of other, less friendly thoughts.

Has Wal-Mart really "saved" people to the tune of $200 billion a year, or has its relentless efforts to hold the line on cost and undercut the competition disguised the disgraceful stagnation in take home pay?

Wal-Mart may account for 13% of our productivity gains, but it also accounts for about 13% of our trade deficit with China.

Wal-Mart may tally a net increase in jobs, but what are the wages and benefits associated with those jobs compared to the ones lost? Of course people apply to work when new stores open. A substandard job is better than no job. That doesn't mean they shouldn't aspire to more.

I am not a Wal-Mart hater. I even shop there once in a rare while. Wal-Mart is the master of "good enough." That is to say, at the price point, what they have is good enough to be serviceable. Do I purchase a set of breathable rain gear for $300 from REI, or $100 from Wal-Mart? It's not the same quality, and you don't have the same selection, but when presented with something that fit well and wasn't butt ugly, I chose the Wal-Mart set. For obvious reasons.

And for the poor it's even more blatant. A bottle of shampoo is the same thing whether bought at Wal-Mart for $1 or a corner market for $3. How do the poor benefit from paying more than necessary for daily staples?

So I'll agree with Will that the anti-Wal-Mart fervor is a bit excessive and overlooks the good the lower prices accomplish. But that doesn't tell the whole story. What's going on behind the scenes? What else is going on as part of the economic climate? That tells a less cheerful tale, one that people might pay some attention to in lieu of faking orgasms over Wal-Mart's growth and profitability.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Ohio Senate race

By Heraclitus

Since I'm currently living in Ohio, I plan to blog at least a little about the current Ohio Senate race. Here's some information on Sherrod Brown, the Democratic candidate. He sounds like a stand-up, old-school Democrat, in the pro-working class tradition of previous Ohio Senators like Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn. Note: this link is from his own website. Then there's this brief account of the various distortions being broadcast by the DeWine campaign. Again, this is straight from Brown's own website, which also includes this summary of media reports on Brown. I especially recommend the article from The Nation, available in full here.

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Is ethanol the pollution solution?

By Heraclitus

A thoughtful piece at the BBC about "the dark side," or at least the problematic side, of biofuels. What I take from the article, more than anything, is that energy conservation has to be our priority, because we're not going to find any easy substitutes for the fossil fuels we consume in such enormous quantities lurking around the next corner.

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Those damned obstructionists

By Heraclitus

The Liberal Avenger has a good account of an exchange on the Senate floor between Bill Frist, who fulminated against the Democrats for letting politics get in the way of the Senate's important business, and Sen. Harry Reid from Nevada. The pith of Reid's response:

“This Republican Congress has wasted 20 months on horse slaughtering; the Schiavo case, dealing with someone’s personal relationship, which should not even have been before this body; gay marriage; the nuclear option; flag burning; repealing the estate tax,” said Reid. “But they could not find a day for some time to look at the President’s mistakes, missteps, and misconduct, which have hurt American security and plunged Iraq into a civil war — not a day.”

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Not happy, not at all

By Creature

When the Washington Post editorial board is not happy, you know things have gone terribly wrong. Here is their take on the tortured torture compromise.

In short, it's hard to credit the statement by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday that "there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved." In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent. If they do, America's standing in the world will continue to suffer, as will the fight against terrorism. [...]

Mr. Bush wanted Congress to formally approve these practices and to declare them consistent with the Geneva Conventions. It will not. But it will not stop him either, if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday. Mr. Bush will go down in history for his embrace of torture and bear responsibility for the enormous damage that has caused.

In six short years the Bush administration and a compliant Congress (Democrats included) have made this country unrecognizable.

Sigh more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Stop the vote, part two

By Heraclitus

Yes, the Republicans have a long and distinguished history of trying to keep those likely to vote for Democrats away from the polls. A slightly less sinister method they've used for some time is the attack ad.

Speaking of which...

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stop the vote

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The New York Times gets it right today:

One of the cornerstones of the Republican Party’s strategy for winning elections these days is voter suppression, intentionally putting up barriers between eligible voters and the ballot box.

The editorial is a response to legislation passed in the House that would establish "onerous new voter ID requirements" -- specifically, mandatory photo IDs with proof of citizenship, "a level of identification that many Americans simply do not have".

What's behind this? Do you even have to ask. This is the Republican Party we're talking about. "The actual reason for this bill is the political calculus that certain kinds of people — the poor, minorities, disabled people and the elderly — are less likely to have valid ID. They are less likely to have cars, and therefore to have drivers’ licenses."

It's unconstitutional, but it's also the Republican way: "America has a proud tradition of opening up the franchise to new groups, notably women and blacks, who were once denied it. It is disgraceful that, for partisan political reasons, some people are trying to reverse the tide, and standing in the way of people who have every right to vote."

Republicans clearly hope to hold onto power by turning voters -- specific voters, largely Democratic voters -- away from the polls. When you've screwed things up as badly and as thoroughly as they have, maybe that's all you've got left.


For more, see Taylor Marsh, The Democratic Daily, and Kevin Drum (who responds to Stephen Bainbridge's claim that the Democrats' electoral strategy involves voter fraud).

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By Heraclitus

Greetings, all. I've just come from an extremely frustrating class, in which I seemed to be alone (well, one or two fellow travelers) in arguing that the U.S. should have intervened to stop genocide in Rwanda. The mixture of vulgar relativism and vulgar self-interest in the students' objections to that course of action were astounding. Who are we to impose our culture on them? Are you really so racist as the think that genocide is the "culture" of Africans? Are they such incorrigible savages that we can't or shouldn't stop the murder of 800,000 people--and that's the conservative estimate, it may have been over a million -- and the rape, brutalization, and displacement of countless others? It doesn't work when we prop up puppet governments to serve our own interests. Thank you, Señor Chavez. What material interest(s) of the United States would have been served by preventing genocide in Rwanda? Well, we don't want genocide, and that's our interest. Right, whereas those savages in Africa can't get enough genocide. I mean, there's got to be a reason it's called the Dark Continent, right (hint: it was because Africa was the last continent to be explored and mapped).

But my favorite, the absolute kicker, was the argument, if we went in, we would be opposed to one of the sides. YES! The side committing genocide!! That's what justice is--opposing injustice and protecting the victims of things like, I don't know, motherfucking genocide.

To be fair, some of the arguments put forth against intervention were somewhat more subtle or intelligent than this. But am I just a fanatic, and have I always just been a fanatic? (Well, yes, but please keep reading.) Am I crazy to expect sheltered 18 year-olds to be a little more idealistic than this? Or am I just turning into some kind of fire-breathing, neocon regime changer?

You wonder if some of them would be able to make any sense at all out of Casablanca.

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Chavez is right!

By Heraclitus

Okay, okay, a needlessly inflammatory title, I know. But does Chavez have a point? First, let's look at some of the high points of his tirade, courtesy of the BBC's account:

"The devil came here yesterday," he said, referring to Mr Bush's speech on Tuesday. "It still smells of sulphur today," he added.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said it was disappointing to see a head of state speak in such a way.

Mr Chavez went on to criticise the UN system, which he said was "worthless".

Mr Chavez, who brandished a copy of American leftist writer Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, said Mr Bush promoted "a false democracy of the elite" and a "democracy of bombs".

"He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world," the Venezuelan leader said.

He called for drastic reform of the UN to reduce what he called US influence.

The UN in its current form "doesn't work", he said.

"I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system," the Venezuelan leader added.

"Let's be honest. The UN system born after World War II collapsed. It's worthless."

Well, if he's brandishing Noam Chomsky, he must be right. When did international politics become a theater of the absurd, in which every squalid and/or crackpot dictator strives with all his might to outdo the others in the game of farcical braggadocio? (Oh, right. The '70s.) Michael is right to call attention to the fact that Chavez is an old-fashioned South American autocrat, and thus unwilling to extend to his own people the rights he urges so passionately upon the UN.

Nevertheless, his observation that the UN "doesn't work" is hardly controversial. If you disagree, remember what's happening in Darfur, and what continues to happen as the UN sits arounds with its dick in its hand, fretting over whether or not to describe the systematic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, and the displacement of two million more, as "genocide." The
BBC again:

The African Union (AU) has decided to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in the Sudanese region of Darfur until the end of the year.

It is expected that Sudan will allow the 7,000-strong force to stay on beyond its 30 September deadline.

More than 200,000 people have died during the three-year rebellion. Over two million people have been displaced.

The Sudanese government has repeatedly rejected plans to transform the African force into the 22,000-strong UN mission agreed to by the Security Council last month.

The UN wants to send a full international peacekeeping operation to end what some governments have called genocide perpetrated by the Sudanese army and its associated militias.

Note the BBC's dishonesty and cowardice in using the phrase, "what some governments have called genocide," as if there are no independent accounts of what's going on in Darfur, just the word of one interested party against another (but what exactly is the U.S.'s interest in opposing genocide in Darfur?).

Prior to the meeting, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir said the plan to replace AU troops with a UN force was a "Zionist plot" intended to weaken states in the region "in order to help Israel".

He said the move would allow opponents to dismember Sudan and plunder its resources.

Right. I suppose he was tipped off by the smell of sulfur coming from the meeting room.

He also insisted reports of a humanitarian crisis in Darfur were exaggerated.

But much of Darfur is inaccessible to aid agencies and the security situation has deteriorated in recent weeks.

A recent academic report said the number of additional deaths caused by the three-year conflict in Darfur ran into the hundreds of thousands and not tens of thousands.

The UN general assembly has already heard forceful calls for action in Darfur.

US President George W Bush said the credibility of the UN was at stake and announced the appointment of a special American envoy, former USAid chief Andrew Natsios, to help in the efforts.

President Chirac of France warned that a crime against humanity was being prepared in Darfur.

Right, prepared. Chirac has no equal when it comes to intellectual integrity.

All of this reminds one that President Bush is not the most loathsome figure on the international scene (not by a long shot), but it also reminds one of how much the world is in need of genuine American leadership, rather than crude and sanctimonious posturing from an incompetent who could not even grasp what was happening to his own country when Hurricane Katrina hit.

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Down with Bush, down with Congress

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A new NYT/CBS poll finds that "Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican-controlled Congress, with substantial majorities saying that they disapprove of the job it is doing and that its members do not deserve reelection".

"Encouraging stuff," says Ezra Klein, and, without getting my hopes up, I'm not about to disagree. Kevin Drum finds a pretty negative electorate: "Apparently, 14% of voters approve of their own congressman's job but nonetheless don't think he or she deserves reelection. Now that's a crowd in a nasty mood."

Here's hoping the mood stays nasty. It's time for drastic change.


Let me take this occasion to welcome a new co-blogger to The Reaction, an anonymous blogger who shall be going by the name Heraclitus. I'm excited to have him with us.

You can find his introductory post right below this one (or click here).

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Yemenis at the polls

By Michael J.W. Stickings

They have elections in Yemen? They do. Sort of. Which is to say, they have elections that are, well, only sort of democratic. Both a president and 301 members of the Assembly of Representatives are elected, the former for a seven-year term, the latter for six-year terms, but there is essentially one dominant party, the General People's Congress, which has both the presidency and 238 seats in the Assembly. The opposition parties are largely powerless. The largest, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, has 46 seats in the Assembly.

Yemen held its 2006 presidential election yesterday, with President Ali Abdullah Saleh running against challenger Faisal Bin Shamlan, the leader of a coalition of opposition parties called the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). Saleh has been the president of Yemen since north-south reunification in 1990. Prior to that he was the president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990. Prior to reunification, Shamlan was a minister in the socialist government of South Yemen.

So was there any doubt as to who would come out on top? No. According to Aljazeera, which is providing regular updates, Saleh has won about 80 percent of the vote. Shamlan is well behind at about 16 percent. That's only, as of this posting, with about four percent of all ballot boxes counted, but there likely won't be much change as the counting proceeds. The vote may be "a major test of Saleh's commitment to democratic reform in Yemen," but there can't be much in the way of democracy with only one major party and a president who has been in power since 1978.

Needless to say, the various opposition parties are reporting multiple "instances of voting irregularities, including observers forced to leave several stations, forced voting, ballot boxed removal and intimidation of voters" -- that is, election fraud.

Also needless to say, there are problems with human rights in Yemen, as well as with, more specifically, women's rights and the freedom of the press. Contrary to what is implied in the picture above, women do have the vote and may run for public office. In its 2005 country report on Yemen, the U.S. State Department puts it this way: "Although women voted and held office, cultural norms rooted in tradition and religious interpretation often limited their exercise of these rights, and the number of women in government and politics did not correspond to their percentage of the population. Currently, one woman, elected in 2003, served as a member of parliament and another served in the cabinet as the minister of human rights. During the year, the Supreme Committee for Elections and Referenda established a Women's Department responsible for addressing gender equality in the electoral process." Again, there can't be much in the way of democracy given the ongoing discrimination against women that pervades Yemeni society.

For more information, the BBC covers the election here. It also has a Q&A, profiles of the candidates, some background, and a country profile -- all worth checking out.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Even when they lose they win

By Creature

Tonight on Hardball Chris Matthews posed this question to Joe Scarborough and the answer he received was predictable.

MATTHEWS: Is this debate over torture helping or hurting the Republican party ahead of the mid-term elections?

SCARBOROUGH: Anytime you talk about the war on terror it's positive for the GOP. And in this case, were the president on the top of the ticket, were he running against a John Kerry or Al Gore in 2006, then he could be called an extremist for being too far right for his own party, but in this case, it's great, all Republicans are winners. If you were Chris Shays up in Connecticut you could point to John McCain and say, "see that's my Republican party. I'm a moderate just like John McCain." If you're a Katherine Harris or if you're a congressman running in North West Florida you say, listen those liberal Republicans and Democrats can protect detainee's rights, they wouldn't say that, they'd say terrorists rights all they want, I'm sticking with the president. So in this case everyone is a winner.

Yay! The GOP wins. They are split, they are infighting, both chambers are tied up, they may not even pass a bill before they break, yet they still win. Incredible. When the Democrats are painted as split they are tearing the party apart and it's the end of the world as we know it. Why is everything always spun as a win for the GOP?

[Hat tip to me for the painful transcription.]

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The evolution of Lucy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There's been a fascinating discovery in Ethiopia:

The 3.3-million-year-old fossilised remains of a human-like child have been unearthed in Ethiopia's Dikika region.

The female Australopithecus afarensis bones are from the same species as an adult skeleton found in 1974 which was nicknamed "Lucy".

For more on fossils and evolution, which those who live in darkness still deny, see here (with links to related stories).

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Bush is the devil

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the U.N. today. The AP has more here. (And, no, I'm not pulling a Ratzinger-Benedict. You know, making a point with a quotation, then hiding behind the quotation. That sort of thing. Let me be clear: I don't think Bush is the devil.)

The fact that Chavez received some applause in response to the devil remark says something about the U.N., or at least about some of its sovereign member-states. This was, after all, an address to the U.N. General Assembly.

Readers of this blog will know that I don't much care for Bush and that I have been relentlessly critical of his foreign policy, but it's demagogic hyperbole to say that the U.S. seeks what Chavez called the "domination, exploitation, and pillage of peoples of the world". Then again, Chavez rules by demagogic hyperbole.

Ambassador John Bolton was quite right to point out that "the people of Venezuela don't have free speech". At the invitation of the international community, and to much of that community's pleasure, Chavez can say what he wants. The Venezuelan people, alas, are not so fortunate.

Such is the glory of Hugo Chavez, tyrant.


Chavez's speech is (curiously) not yet available in text form at the U.N. website. But you can watch the video. See here. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela comes right after the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and right before the Republic of Maldives. Other notable speakers today included Karzai, Bachelet, Prodi, Kirchner, and Livni.

For more, see Taylor Marsh, HuffPo, and The Gun Toting Liberal.

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Iran's transparent sham

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Along with notables like Bush, Chirac, Fox, Lula, Mbeki, and Musharraf, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly yesterday. He claimed that his country's nuclear program is "transparent" and "peaceful".

Hands up if you believe him.


In related news, the French have backed away from sanctions, undermining (along with Russia and China) the attempt to forge some sort of united front against Iran on the U.N. Security Council. The Independent: "President Jacques Chirac has broken ranks with the US and Britain by calling for the suspension of UN Security Council action against Iran during negotiations over its nuclear programme." (See also The New York Times.)

Hands up if you think the French are crazy.

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Thai coup

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, there's been a military coup in Thailand. The Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was at the U.N. in New York when General Sonthi Boonyaratglin "seized power," as he put it. The country is now under martial law, although Sonthi claims that the military will not remain in power indefinitely. The BBC has the latest here, and here are some key links:

Excellent coverage. Keep going back for updates. See also CNN, the NYT, and WaPo. And make sure to check out the local coverage -- for example, by the Bangkok Post (other Thai news outlets can be found here).

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How rich, such hypocrisy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Speaking of Bush's address to the U.N. today (which I did here a short while ago), it was a bit rich of the president to cite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was it not? (The text is here.)

This is a man who enables torture, after all.

The Nation's David Corn examines the hypocrisy here.

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Lieberman 45%, Lamont 43%

By Michael J.W. Stickings

That's the result of the latest Rasmussen poll.

You know, I'll admit that I haven't exactly been one of Lamont's more ardent supporters. In fact, I remained more or less neutral during the primary campaign before finally turning on Lieberman shortly after the primary. And now? Now it's come to this:

Go, Ned, go!

(As always, head on over to Firedoglake for more.)

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Turnout, turnout, turnout

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Chris Bowers of MyDD looks at some poll numbers and concludes this: "There is no way we can win this election unless we turn out Democrats at high levels."

This is "obvious," of course, but the key point is that polls of likely voters show a much closer race than polls of registered voters: "If we hold a nine-point edge among registered voters, than we should also hold a nine-point advantage among likely voters. If we fail to do so, then we have utterly failed in our field operations, our message, and our media strategy." Right now, the advantage is not the same -- a 10.4-point lead for Democrats among registered voters, but only a 6.0-point lead among likely votes -- suggesting that predictive turnout favours the Republicans, who in recent elections have done so well to turn out their base. In a close race, in close races all over the country, a Republican victory in turnout could prove to be the difference between retaking one or both houses of Congress and facing at least two more years of Republican control.

To my American readers: Get out and vote!

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Bush at the U.N.: Platitudes at the podium

By Michael J.W. Stickings

President Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly. And it was -- drum roll, please -- the same old same old same old. As Steve Benen puts it, "[f]or 20 minutes, the president said exactly what he was expected to say". You know, 9/11, campaign of murder, extremist ideology, great ideological struggle, nuclear weapons, terror as a weapon. And that's just one paragraph. He went on to mention a world beyond terror, freedom and justice, the forces of freedom and moderation, democratic changes. As well as to address directly the people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Iran, the people of Syria, and the people of Darfur. All of which sounds good, and reads well, but, given reality, Bush's words, his exhortations to peace, are little more than, if nothing else than, platitudes, the same ones we've come to know so well. We don't have to read this president's lips. We already know what he's going to say.

This address, Steve reminds us, comes at the end of a 19-day White House p.r. campaign -- an "offensive" designed, whatever the spin, to boost Bush's popularity and the Republicans' electoral fortunes:

And what have we learned in these 19 days? First, we learned that the news networks will give Bush all the airtime he wants, whether he has anything new to say or not. Second, we learned the Bush doesn't, in fact, have anything new to say. Third, we learned the president's team is under the impression that simply repeating the same talking points, and using the same arguments as part of the same election strategy, is enough to help tip the scales a little in the GOP's favor.

And fourth, that they may actually be right.

That fourth consideration leads to a USA Today report that Bush's approval rating has increased to 44 percent, "his highest rating in a year". Steve Soto explains:

Bush is focusing on his Daddy Protector image because it's the only selling point he left with anyone, especially the cultists. Bashing the media and Democrats for being against him is Bush’s way to drive up his numbers with the base and get those approval ratings to a safe enough number so that the wingers don’t stay home on Election Day. The president commands all the news cycles, and Democrats lack a single voice of opposition that can get an alternate message into the same news cycle. Neither Harry Reid nor Nancy Pelosi are suited to that task, yet it is critical that both of them designate one member from each house to rebut everything Bush says every day and get the opposing view into the same cycle...

The only way for Democrats to maintain the momentum necessary to take back the Congress is to battle Bush for every news cycle between now and the election, and get the alternate message out there every day so that Bush cannot spin his message without rebuttal. Democrats need to focus the media back towards terrain more favorable to them, because the media will not do it themselves.

Quite so. It is incumbent upon all of us, including those of us in the blogosphere, to stay focused, to keep this election campaign focused on national politics, on issues like Iraq and Katrina, on Bush and the Republican Congress. Each one of us, large or small, can make a difference -- a difference that truly matters come November.

(See also Taylor Marsh and The Heretik.)

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By Creature

Eugene Robinson can't get past the whole torture thing. Who can blame him?

It is not possible for our elected representatives to hold any sort of honorable "debate" over torture. Bush says he is waging a "struggle for civilization," but civilized nations do not debate slavery or genocide, and they don't debate torture, either. This spectacle insults and dishonors every American.

If we are in a struggle for civilization, we have already lost.

Robinson more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Wait for it

By Creature

I wondered where Chevy had gone.
MSNBC has more of the land shark news.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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John Yoo is a dangerous idiot

I wrote about Yoo's un-American constitutionalism -- his championing of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial ones -- last week (see here). My main point was this: "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."

Well, Yoo himself appeared in the op-ed pages of The New York Times yesterday to make his case. In the course of his piece, he defends the decision to go to war, in Iraq presumably, "to war to pre-empt foreign threats," the NSA's illegal eavesdropping program ("to root out terrorism" at home), the detention of terrorists "without formal charges," torture (euphemistically referring to it as "interrogating some harshly"), and "military tribunals modeled on those of past wars".

All of which is put in context: "But the president has broader goals than even fighting terrorism -- he has long intended to make reinvigorating the presidency a priority." For examples of a reinvigorated presidency, Yoo praises Bush's "decisions to terminate the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty and to withdraw from the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto accords on global warming". These "[rest] on constitutional precedents going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln".

And there's more: "The administration has also been energetic on the domestic front. It has re-classified national security information made public in earlier administrations and declined, citing executive privilege, to disclose information to Congress or the courts about its energy policy task force. The White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority. That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements -- more than any previous president -- reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws."


It's hard to know where to begin to find fault with Yoo's piece. There's so much wrong with it that it seems pointless to pay it much serious attention. What Yoo has provided is essentially a laundry list of Bush's abuses of power while in the Oval Office. That that I thank him. I'm not sure anyone else has done it so succinctly, or at least so succinctly without even a trace of irony. All this is good, according to Yoo: Spying on Americans without warrants, torturing detainees, turning American justice on its head by suspending defendants' basic rights, sending America's brave men and women in uniform over to fight a disastrously unplanned war in the Middle East, pulling out of agreements that promote disarmament, international law, and global warming, and circumventing Congress on its way to establishing its absolute authority at home -- this, according to Yoo, is the legacy of the Bush presidency. And he makes his case in all seriousness.

Andrew Sullivan reminds us of this: "Remember also that Yoo is the man who believes that the president has absolute constitutional authority to torture the children of captured terrorists, if the president deems it necessary."

At TalkLeft, Big Tent Democrat writes that Yoo has been "utterly discredited" and that his op-ed piece is "audaciously mendacious". And I certainly agree with BTD on this: "The man is not only an extremist, he is a charlatan. That he remains on the public stage is an indictment on our society."

At Firedoglake, Christy Harden Smith puts it this way: "You need look no further for an example of that idiocy than John Yoo's flatulent, self-serving attempt at reputation enhancement op-ed in today's New York Times for a hollow attempt at after-the-fact justification of poorly reasoned propping up of legalistic maneuvers without foundation. Pathetic. And supremely transparent. How a professor of Constitutional law can put forth arguments based on such flawed and nonexistent precedents is beyond me -- the intellectual maneuvers required to be this dishonest with oneself... well, let's just say that Cirque du Soleil might want to add a new act."

The Heretik weighs, too.

And then I fall back on Glenn Greenwald, who makes a compelling case for ignoring Yoo entirely: "[A]nyone who fails (or refuses) to recognize that the President does not have the power in our system of government to violate laws by invoking national security concerns is never going to recognize that. Yoo's Op-Ed is so flagrantly frivolous that it ought not be taken seriously."

You know, he's right. Why take Yoo seriously? Why even bother to respond to his ridiculous op-ed piece? (Even The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr finds Yoo's statements here to be "diametrically opposed" to statements he made about Clinton in 2000 -- like a lot of unitary executive types, Yoo only seems to favour unitary executives who are Republican.) Why not just thank him for providing us all with an un-ironic list of Bush's abuses of power, a handy cheat sheet for whenever we need to remind ourselves of the myriad times Bush has shat all over America (and the rest of the world, allies and all) during his two terms in the White House (and there's still so much time for more!)?

Yes, Yoo has sullied this blog more than enough...

But you know the problem? Whatever the merits of his case, Yoo is still taken seriously, still gets to have his case published in the Times, and still has influence on those in power who are working to implement his un-American constitutionalism. As I put it in my previous post on Yoo: "Don't think this isn't possible. It's happening right now."

John Yoo and everything he stands for are extremely dangerous. He and everything he stands for must be stopped. But the force of persuasion won't be enough. Those who support him and everything he stands for won't be swayed by reason or by recourse to justice or history. No, the only way to stop him and everything he stands for is to kick these fuckers out of office -- yes, by removing from power those who fuck with the Constitution and the philosophy of American self-government. Some are in the White House, some are in Congress -- all need to go.

You want perhaps the most important reason to support the Democrats this year and in '08? This is it.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sweden to the right

Sweden held a general election today, and it seems that the center-right coalition led by Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt is poised to take over from the governing center-left (red-green) coalition led by Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party leader Goran Persson. (The BBC reports here.)

Sweden uses a variation of the List Proportional Representation electoral system. The 349 seats in the national assembly, the Riksdag, are apportioned according to parties' percentage of popular vote. 310 members are elected from 29 electoral districts and a further 39 are elected at the national level. These 39 "adjustment seats" ensure proportionality. (For more on Sweden's electoral system, as well as historical election results, see here and here.)

Preliminary results show that Reinfeldt's center-right coalition won 178 seats, while Persson's center-left coalition won 171. The Social Democrats still won the most seats of any party, however, with 130, well ahead of the Moderates at 96. (For more on the election, including updated results, see here. The BBC provides a Q&A here.)

What does this mean for Sweden?

As the BBC notes, "[t]he Social Democrats have governed Sweden for all but 10 of the 89 years since the country introduced parliamentary government". The Swedish economy is fairly strong, but Persson's "the administration has not had a smooth ride". Voters rejected the Euro in a 2003 referendum and there have been "a number of domestic scandals". Plus, the opposition parties in the center and on the right were "united".

Reinfeldt refers to his party as the "New Moderates," and his coalition may have won because Sweden's long-established welfare system, a cornerstone of Swedish society built by the Social Democrats, has become an acceptable target for political criticism: "Key issues in the election included whether Sweden's generous welfare model must reform for it to survive in the global economy." Indeed, Reinfeldt has "promised to cut taxes and reform Sweden's cradle-to-grave welfare state".

The question is whether the New Moderates will succeed in creating a New Sweden. Given the Social Democrats' position as the country's established governing party and the closeness of this election -- Reinfeldt's coalition won by about one percent -- any center-right era of reform could turn out to be both unsuccessful and short-lived. (See the article at Wikipedia for more on the election campaign, as well as for background.)

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The stork with the prosthesis

BBC: "Uzonka the stork is fitted with a prosthesis at an animal hospital in Romania after its bill was broken in an assault."

Great story.

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Baker to the rescue?

"Is Jim Baker bailing out the Bushes once again?" asks the Post today:

The former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, a confidant of President George H.W. Bush, visited Baghdad two weeks ago to take a look at the vexing political and military situation. He was there as co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, put together by top think tanks at the behest of Congress to come up with ideas about the way forward in Iraq.

Baker's involvement in the Iraq War through the Iraq Study Group may not be directed by the White House -- his realism, the realism of George H.W. Bush, is clearly at odds with the idealism of George W. Bush -- but the Post may be right that he may be able to "forge bipartisan consensus on a plan for extricating the United States from Iraq -- and then successfully pitch that plan to a president who has so far seemed impervious to outside pressure".

"The study group" -- which also includes Sandra Day O'Connor, Rudi Giuliani, Vernon Jordan, and Leon Panetta -- "appears to be struggling to find some middle ground between... a pullout and the administration's strategy of keeping a heavy American troop presence until the Iraqi government can maintain security on its own."

Little speaks more to Bush's failure in Iraq, to the failure of the war generally, than the very existence of Baker's study group. It may not come up with a plan that appeals completely to either the warmongers in the White House or those who advocate the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, but it is evident nonetheless that a viable plan to extricate the U.S. from this debacle of Bush's making cannot come from Bush himself.

With no credibility and with intellectual bankruptcy at hand, Bush and his various defenders and apologists have nothing left to offer beyond stay-the-course posturing and escalate-the-war fastasizing. Attention -- and hope -- now turns to others who would have known better in the first place.

(For more, see The Heretik.)

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