Saturday, December 02, 2006

And it's Dion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He was my choice from the outset, more or less, but I didn't think he would win. Not with a high-profile celebrity candidate like Michael Ignatieff heading to the leadership convention with the most delegates and an aura of Trudeau about him, not with the formidable Bob Rae in the race. Perhaps an alliance with Gerard Kennedy would help, but I thought the anti-Ignatieff movement would coalesce around Rae.

But no. After finishing third on the first and second ballots, he surged into the lead on the third ballot and won on the fourth. Yes, the next leader of Canada's Liberal Party, and perhaps our next prime minister, and perhaps sooner rather than later, is:

Stéphane Dion.

Which is good for the Liberal Party and good for Canada, I think, particularly if his team heading into the next election includes Ignatieff, Rae, Kennedy, and Ken Dryden, who finished fifth. Dion is not without his problems -- he's not terribly popular in his home province of Quebec given his strident anti-sovereigntist views, and he's not exactly the most charismatic of politicians -- but he should do well.

And while Harper's Conservatives pander to Quebec's soft nationalists in the desperate hope of picking enough seats for a majority, in so doing irresponsibly exacerbating the tensions between Quebec and the rest of Canada, Dion will continue to be a passionate advocate of federalism, of a Canada that includes Quebec but that does not become so fragmented as to disintegrate. Indeed, I supported him mostly because of his strong, determined position on federalism, akin to Trudeau's, and I believe he will be just the sort of leader we need in Canada.

(For more on Dion, see here.)

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How'd that happen?

By Heraclitus

This column, from Dan Savage's archives, captures a lot of what I think is so great (and so hilarious) about him. In a nutshell, it's his ability to cut through bullshit hypocrisy or rationalizations, usually with a sense of bawdy sarcasm that is truly admirable. The last letter, and Savage's reply, is easily my favorite, and maybe the best exchange I've ever read in an advice column of any sort.

[Ed. note: Extreme adult content. Read it at your own discretion. -- MJWS]

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A run for the border

By Capt. Fogg

Senator Joe Biden will soon be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He isn’t mincing words when it comes to his disdain for the government of Mexico and for the Mexicans coming into the US illegally. Of course he’s also maneuvering for a shot at the Presidency and so the Delaware Democrat was in South Carolina on Monday, Nov 27th, hammering away at the need to put up a wall and to punish those who hire Mexicans without papers. Said Biden of our neighbor to the south:

"It is one of the wealthiest countries in the hemisphere and because of a corrupt system that exists in Mexico, there is the 1 percent of the population at the top, a very small middle class and the rest is abject poverty."

Indeed it seems that Mexico is in a place the Republicans have been steering us toward for 12 years, but that’s another story. The US isn't looking for regeme change and Biden isn't offering to invade Mexico to set them free - he wants to put up a wall.

I was in the border town of Juarez, Mexico last week and two things were immediately apparent. The local economy is far worse than it was 5 years ago and Mexicans want to work and work hard – so hard that they will think of ways to be useful that I would never have thought of. They will also think of ways to get out of Mexico. In the US Border Patrol Museum in El Paso, I saw boats made of truck hoods that were used to cross the river. I saw Mad Max motorcycles made from pieces of farm equipment used to cross the desert carrying three to five very determined passengers.

Much of the really hard work done in really unbearable weather here in Sout Florida is done by Hispanics. Most are legal and there aren’t enough of them to meet the demand for roofers and masons to repair all or the hurricane damage of the last few years, but politicians are inventive too and they have as strong a desire to advance themselves as some one armed guy outside the Mercado in Juarez acting as a free lance traffic director hoping you’ll give him a few Pesos for finding you a parking spot. They need something to scare us with and someone to exploit and that just happens to be Mexico.

These politicians have so whipped up public animosity that I’m not sure any reasonable solution to whatever problem may lurk behind the screen of xenophobia and nativism and fear of foreign words will arise. I’m not sure that any real sense of whether undocumented Mexicans are an asset to or drain on the economy will emerge, but I am sure that this country; this government that can’t stop rhapsodizing about freedom and liberty and elections and the glory of unbridled capitalism really doesn’t give a flying damn about what happens anywhere or to anyone. In that respect, the government and the people of the United States seem to be as one.

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Who will lead Canada's Liberals?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Liberal Party -- Canada's governing party for most of its history -- is in the process of selecting a new leader in Montreal (and perhaps the also next prime minister). The four top candidates are public intellectual Michael Ignatieff, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, Quebec MP Stéphane Dion, and former Ontario Education Minister Gerard Kennedy. Former Montreal Canadiens goalie (and lawyer, author, and federal cabinet minister) is a distant fifth. (You can find more on the candidates here.) Here's the latest from the CBC:

Federal Liberal leadership front-runner Michael Ignatieff held an initial lead early Saturday in the first ballot, but nowhere near the 50 per cent plus one majority needed to claim the job outright, forcing at least a second ballot to determine the winner...

Ignatieff received 1,412 votes, or about 29.3 per cent of the delegates, ahead of his chief rival, former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who garnered 977 votes, or about 20.3 per cent. Stéphane Dion narrowly finished third with 856 votes, just two votes ahead of Gerard Kennedy.

The leadership convention resumes later today.

I'm not as anti-Ignatieff as many Liberals are, but I do find myself in the anyone-but-Ignatieff camp at the moment. I just don't think he has enough experience in Canadian politics -- he's spent his life as an academic, mostly outside of Canada, and was parachuted into a safe riding in Toronto's west end for the last election -- and I find his hawkishness in foreign policy and national security both arrogant, given his defence of pre-emptive war (like Iraq), and unjust, given his "lesser evil" defence of torture and other such illiberal practices in support of the war on terror. I sympathize with his liberal interventionism -- I'm one myself, after all -- and would like to see him remain a leading figure in the Liberal Party, but now is the time for a leader who has come to understand Canada in practice, not merely in theory. Ignatieff is the celebrity, the superstar candidate, but now should not be his time.

I've always liked Dion and I've come to like Rae more and more over the course of the campaign. Either one would be good for the Liberal Party and good for Canada. Regardless, I'll support whomever emerges victorious from this race against Prime Minister Harper's Conservatives.

Even Ignatieff.

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Pelosi picks Reyes

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, fine. Whatever my earlier concerns -- see here, here, here, and here -- Nancy Pelosi has made a good choice in selecting Silvestre Reyes to be the next chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

All's well that ends well. Hopefully.

For more, see The Carpetbagger Report.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

An intoxicating education

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Ah, the French:

French schools should teach children the virtues of drinking wine, a report by France's governing party says.

The report says children who learn how wines are "cultivated and transformed to acquire their taste" are more likely to stay healthy and respect nature.

Wine classes at school could also lift the global standing of French wines, the report by the UMP party says.

How, ummmmmmm, civilized. N'est-ce pas?

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Sex abuse of girls in Africa

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There's a horrifying article in today's Times on the widespread sex abuse of girls in Africa. To say that it's an enormous problem isn't to do it justice. Make sure to read the whole thing, but here's a key passage:

In much of the continent, child advocates say, perpetrators are shielded by the traditionally low status of girls, a lingering view that sexual abuse should be dealt with privately, and justice systems that constitute obstacle courses for victims. Data is sparse and sexual violence is notoriously underreported. But South African police reports give an inkling of the sweep of child victimization. In the 12 months ending in March 2005, the police reported more than 22,000 cases of child rape. In contrast, England and Wales, with nine million more people than South Africa, reported just 13,300 rapes of women and girls in the most recent 12-month period.

I'm not quite sure how anyone could write "just 13,300 rapes" -- rape is obviously a problem everywhere, including the U.K. -- but the point is taken. In Namibia, "more than one in five women... reported being sexually abused before age 15," according to a WHO survey. And "[h]alf of Malawian schoolgirls surveyed in 2006 said male teachers or classmates had touched them in a sexual manner without their permission". Efforts are being made in countries like South Africa and Madagascar, but, needless to say, much more needs to be done to protect girls and women from such prevalent abuse. Law enforcement will help, but an entire culture of abuse needs to be eradicated. And that won't come easily.

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Friday afternoon poem

By Heraclitus

Because I'm a bastard, I'm going to make you cry. This poem is by John Updike, and it was first published in 1958.

"Dog's Death"

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog! Good dog!"

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

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Disappointment, indifference and despair

By Creature

The president traveled to Jordan to assert his relevance in the Iraq debate. He came home more irrelevant than ever. The only consolation for the boy who would be president is that the man he went to meet is even more irrelevant than he is. I'll let the Iraqi people speak for themselves:

Ms. Nabhani, a 34-year-old homemaker, scoffed: “Is that all? Was that even worth the fuel consumed by their airplanes?”

- snip -

“Nothing will happen, and we will get no results and no solutions,” [taxi driver, Khalaf] went on. “We need a strong state that can make decisions, that can beat the bad guys, can beat the militias. This meeting is just for the media, and it’s not useful!”

- snip -

“Mr. Maliki had many chances before to show his ability, but he failed,” [graphic designer, Huda] said. “We need a strong man and he is not like this at all.”

If only the Iraqis could harness the hot air generated by the rhetorical platitudes of Bush and Maliki, then maybe they would have electricity for more than a few hours a day.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Indian movie special effects and the Green Lantern

By Heraclitus

Via James Lileks, I bring to you this delightful Youtube clip of two scenes highlighting the finest in special effects in Indian movies.

Speaking of Lileks, check out these panels from an old Green Lantern comic, which are hilarious. As often happens with Lileks's treks into the past, it's hard to produce a bigger laugh than the images themselves do, they're so absurd. Just click here and scroll down a little.

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Links on immigration and Darfur

By Heraclitus

Amanda Marcotte calls our attention to the similarities between anti-immigration rhetoric here in the US and Nazi propaganda. A judge in Brooklyn is self-publishing a children's book comparing illegal immigrants (or is it just all immigrants?) to weeds choking the life out of plants that, for some reason, are more deserving of that life. The whole post is absolutely worth reading, but here's a sample:

I find myself drawn to having to write about this, because the escalation of fascist, genocidal rhetoric alarms me to no end. Scapegoating Mexican immigrants for our economic woes just like the Germans went after the Jews for theirs is a parallel that should make any thinking person’s blood run cold. This particular metaphor—the image of Mexican immigrants literally starving out white Americans—is especially brainless hate, since illegal immigrants provide so much cheap labor to grow, pick and process that cheap ass food that the delicate hothouse flowers-cum-sphincters like Wilson are clogging their arteries with. Mexican immigrants aren’t starving us, dipshits, they’re feeding us. And for bad wages and even worse work conditions a great deal of the time.

Meanwhile, The Quaker Agitator has a series of important updates on Darfur (h/t: Zuky). You can just click on the link in his name and scroll down, or click here and here. He also has a post entitled "Darfur: What you can do (for starters)," which lists a series of online resources for advocates for Darfur and advice on organizing on their behalf. Meanwhile, about the UN Human Rights Council's refusal even to pass a resolution calling on the Sudanese government to prosecute those responsible for the war crimes in Darfur (how chickenshit can you get?), quakerdave has this to say:

In other words, this Council is now thoroughly and utterly discredited. Those who continue to benefit financially from their cozy relationship with the genocidal dictatorship which is the Khartoum government have further stoked the funeral pyres of those who will continue to die at Khartoum's filthy, bloody hands. The folks at the United Nations sure do talk a good game about "never again," but then they whore themselves out to the highest bidder and let the killing of the innocents continue. And our president and his "secretary of state" stay predictably silent. As per usual. Shame on all of them.

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Iraq Study Group to recommend phased withdrawal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not much of a surprise, but here's the Times with the breaking news:

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel’s deliberations.

The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding...

The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year.

The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries...

We'll have much more on this, including reaction throughout the blogosphere, but for now see Liberal Oasis, MyDD, and The Agonist. And follow at Memeorandum what I assume will be a lot of coverage in the blogosphere today.

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Castrated and Compromised

By Creature

Our vice president has been summoned by a dictator, our president has been stood up by a puppet leader, and now the bipartisan panel charged with finding domestic political cover for a situation out of our control have reached a toothless compromise as they jerk each other off, pat themselves on the back, and enjoy their Oprah moment.

“I think everyone felt good about where we ended up,” one person involved in the commission’s debates said after the group ended its meeting. “It is neither ‘cut and run’ nor ‘stay the course.’ ”

I'll leave the deconstruction of the compromise [gradual pullback with lots of talk] to those at a higher pay-grade, but at least everyone involved felt really fucking good about it.

Circle jerk more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Reality according to the Saudis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, Saudi Arabia will intervene to protect Iraqi Sunnis, wrote Nawaf Obaid, an advisor to the Saudi government, in yesterday's WaPo: "If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Cheney, who was in Saudi Arabia over the weekend and who is perhaps the most enthusiastic (and delusional) warmonger of them all, may see this as yet another reason to stay in Iraq and not withdraw. Help the Sunnis, help the Saudis. And we know how close the Bushies are to the tyrants in Riyadh. When they want something, the Bushies are usually more than happy to oblige.

And yet perhaps the Saudis understand that phased withdrawal is likely and are simply telling Cheney what will happen once the U.S. leaves. As Steve Clemons puts it: "What Obaid has articulated here is not offered as a threat if the US leaves Iraq... This is the first robust declaration that the Saudis are willing to fill the vacuum left by the United States in the region and knock back some of the unchecked expansion of Iranian influence in the region... And frankly, it's much better to have the Saudis engaged that not engaged in Iraq. Iran must be balanced -- and while this may seem like an escalation, it actually is an important potential cap on a worsening of this increasingly ulcerous mess in Iraq."

Saudi Arabia may be telling the U.S. to get out and let a new balance of power emerge in the Middle East. Whatever the risks involved with a possible Saudi-Iranian clash in Iraq, now might be a good time for Bush to listen to his friends in Riyadh. After all of Bush's high-falutin' rhetoric on America's commitment to democratic transformation in the Middle East, the ironic truth is that peace, and perhaps even democratic reform, may only be possible in the Middle East once the U.S. gets out of the way.

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Global warming at the Supreme Court

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Global warming has finally made it to the highest court in the land. Sort of.

While the Bush Administration, supported by the usual suspects from the automotive industry (as well as Michigan and eight other states), is claiming that the EPA has no authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions (specifically as a pollutant from new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act), 12 states and 13 environmental groups, along with a U.S. territory, are claiming that the EPA has failed to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant as it is required to do so under the Clean Air Act.

The case is Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency. Although it is essentially about EPA authority under the Clean Air Act, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston writes in response to yesterday's argument that "[t]he Supreme Court's first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity -- or lack of it -- to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the 'standing' issue)". It seems that Kennedy may be the swing vote between liberals Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens (on Massachusetts's side) and conservatives Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas (on the EPA side). Denniston suggests that Kennedy may side with the liberals. On cases pertaining to "standing," he is "more generous about showing a linkage between government action and private harm, and about opening the courts for more sweeping challenges to public policy".

The problem, of course, is the Bush Administration and its supporters in industry. They deny the seriousness, and even the reality, of global warming, and although this case concerns EPA authority it is really about the reality of global warming as a threat to public health even beyond the issue of carbon dioxide as an air pollutant. From the AP (link above):

Even if it had such authority, the EPA still would not use it at this point because of uncertainty surrounding the issue of global warming, the administration said.

Global climate change is "a controversial phenomenon that is far from fully understood or defined," trade associations for car and truck makers and automobile dealers said in a court filing signed by former Solicitors General Theodore Olson and Kenneth Starr that backs the administration position.

And the Supreme Court is treating it that way. Denniston:

In the Massachusetts case, Kennedy suggested that the Court could not bypass the larger question of whether global warming is a problem, in order to assess who might be harmed by it, "because there's no injury if there's not global warming." And he at least implied that the risk from climate change was great enough that perhaps it should take less evidence to show that a federal agency should act to deal with the risk -- and thus redress the harm from global warming. He also raised the possibility that states might have some special right to sue, over the prospect of having large acreages of their coastal land submerged by rising seas.

There should be no debate as to the reality and seriousness of global warming, but of course there are many -- and many in influential positions -- who deny both. With Congress soon to be under their control, Democrats have committed to dealing with global warming, although, as Brad Plumer recently reminded us in a chilling piece at The New Republic, some leading Democrats, like incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell of Michigan, are themselves "allied with the auto industry". Indeed, "Dingell may emerge as the major sticking point in Congress for strong climate-change legislation". The Democrats may not be nearly as negligent with respect to global warming as the Republicans have been, but there are no guarantees that even this Democratic Congress will get much done.

Which brings what I have called "the most pressing issue of our time" back to the courts, where perhaps something can get done, or be forced to get done. No wonder Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency has emerged as such an extraordinarily important case. No wonder the deniers are fighting it so aggressively. It could determine America's course on global warming for a long time to come. And given that there likely isn't much time left in which to act, it could be America's best hope for addressing the problem, and shifting public policy, before it's too late even to slow down the arrival of what are anticipated to be the enormously dire consequences of global warming.

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Those fuel-lish science teachers!

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Thank goodness for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and its courage to report stories that the mainline American media won't touch. This morning on the The Current, host Anna-Maria Tremonti reported on the refusal of the National Science Teachers Association to accept 50,000 free DVD's of Al Gore's global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The reason? The NSTA feared offending those climate-change deniers at ExxonMobil who are among the association's major backers.

If that isn't disturbing enough, the NSTA graciously accepted tens of thousands of free copies of an "educational" video called "Fuel-less: You Can't be Cool Without Fuel." This gem, a "spoof" of Clueless produced by the brilliant scientists working at the American Petroleum Institute, is so outrageously misleading that it seems right out of an episode of The Simpsons. Is it any wonder that we have so many climate change skeptics in this country, when even our science teachers allow their integrity to be purchased for a few petro-dollars?

I caught the audio as an MP3 and you can listen to the report and share in the outrage. Or you can visit the API site and watch the 16-minute video yourself.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

BA radiation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From WaPo:

British authorities investigating the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko have discovered low levels of radiation on two British Airways jetliners, prompting the airline to ground the planes and issue warnings to as many as 33,000 passengers who traveled in the past month on those aircraft and on a third plane grounded in Moscow, company officials said Wednesday...

The radiation found on the planes is an important new clue for investigators who are trying to solve an extraordinary case that has caused political tensions between London and Moscow. It may help determine where the material that killed Litvinenko, called polonium-210, came from as detectives follow the trail created by the radioactive substance.

Odd. And interesting. And, well, a bit scary. The BBC has more here.

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No more iPods for you!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He may have the bomb -- he being North Korea's diminutive totalitarian Kim Jong Il -- but the U.S. is trying to make it harder for him to acquire some of his favourite luxury items, such as iPods, plasma TVs, Rolexes, and Harley Davidsons. All part of a U.N. sanctions effort that, according to the AP, "would be the first ever to curtail a specific category of goods not associated with military buildups or weapons designs, especially one so tailored to annoy a foreign leader".

He'll find his diversions elsewhere -- surely there are billions of iPods floating around in the black market -- but I suppose it's worth a shot. Maybe his insatiable materialism will bring him to the negotiating table.

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Two words: Terri Schiavo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Wow. Bill Frist has announced he's not -- repeat: not -- running for president. Didn't see that coming, huh? Huge surprise. Huge.



For more, see Joe Gandelman at TMV.


And here was my assessment of Frist back in September 2005:

First he was a medical hack (Terri Schiavo).

Then he showed some common sense (stem-cell research).

Then he revealed just how unintelligent he really is (intelligent design).

And now... now he's just a crook (insider trading?).

He's Dr. Bill Frist (R-TN).

Senate Majority Leader.


Well, not anymore.

He's done.

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Stand-up stand-down all over again

By Creature

I've seen this movie before, and it didn't end well the first time.

President Bush will ask the embattled Iraqi prime minister for ideas on how to train Iraqi forces faster so they can shoulder more responsibility for securing the nation as a top White House adviser has doubts that Nouri al-Maliki will be able to halt escalating sectarian violence. [emphasis me]

It's not the speed at which Iraqi troops are trained, and it's not the number of Iraqi troops (if I'm not mistaken there are plenty of them to go around), it's the fact that when the bullets start to fly they choose not to fight. The reality which the Bush administration fails to admit is that there is an Iraqi army on the ground. An army that is well trained (and well funded). An army that has proven there willingness to fight. An army as brutal as any Republican Guard. It's Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia and this is the army that will eventually come to rule Iraq. The only question that remains is how long will the Bush administration waste American lives and resources before succumbing to the reality before them? I'm betting at least two more years, but otherwise it's a rhetorical question.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The delusion of a president

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Bush in Latvia, from the Times and the Post:

"We'll continue to be flexible and we will make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

Meaning what exactly? Nothing. It's just tough talk. He's open to changing course, but, well, not really. Although I'm sure it all depends on the meanings of "mission" and "complete," and perhaps also "battlefield".


"We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."

Define "victory". Seriously. What does it mean now? Or is this also just tough talk with nothing to back it up?


Iraq is "a sovereign nation which is conducting its own foreign policy".

Um, yeah, sure. How so "sovereign"? In theory?


It's not civil war: "There's all kinds of speculation about what may or may not be happening. No question, it's tough."

You think?

There isn't any "speculation about what may or may not be happening". We all know, more or less, what's happening. And "tough" isn't the word for it. In fact, "tough" is insulting. What's happening over there is simply brutal: torture, mass murder, grotesque barbarism. What's happening over here is that some people, notably Bush's people, are playing games with words and denying reality. No, no, it's not civil war, just like no, no, it wasn't genocide in Rwanda. Either they're so delusional that they don't really know what's happening or they do know and they're refusing to admit it. Either way, it's not good. Either way, they have no credibility left.


"There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by Al Qaeda causing people to seek reprisal."

Wait... what? It's all al Qaeda's fault? If al Qaeda weren't there -- and I'm not quite sure what incarnation of al Qaeda he's talking about -- there wouldn't be any sectarian violence? Or at least only minimal sectarian violence? This is either a gross misunderstanding or a gross misrepresentation of the nature of Iraq's sectarian violence.

And, because I can't quite find the words to explain just how crazy this is, I turn to Josh Marshall: "I really never thought this country could be run for a significant period of time by a president who seems captive of dingbat conspiracy theories and the strategic complexity of a children's bedtime story."

But it has been. And it still is.

Much to America's disgrace.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

So it won't be Harman or Hastings

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Nancy Pelosi has done well to keep Alcee Hastings, the impeached and convicted former judge, out of the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. But the position won't go to Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat, either -- according to the Post. Which is a shame, even if my support for her had been getting softer.

Or perhaps it's not really a shame at all.

Although I stand by my initial support for Harman, and although she could have been appointed without much controversy, it was clear that Pelosi didn't want to appoint her and was looking elsewhere. And that, at first, meant Hastings, a wildly inappropriate candidate but one backed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). And Harman still had her influential supporters, including the moderate-conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Again, Pelosi could have appointed her regardless, but the appointment had already become a high-profile issue with significant media attention and a caucus divided by two rival candidacies. And that meant that neither Harman nor Hastings could be appointed without controversy. And that now means that a compromise candidate -- and perhaps a very good one -- can be selected. It is the only way to resolve what has become an unfortunate problem.

The Post mentions as possible candidates Silvestre Reyes, Norman Dicks, and Sanford Bishop. All three make sense, but the position should go to Rush Holt.

(For more, see Greenwald.)

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The Last Hurrah

By Creature

While the president worries about his legacy it's becoming increasing clear that the legacy he is leaving for the United States is that of a weakened superpower that must now plead its case to a world that clearly has the upper hand.

Bush begs NATO:

President Bush appealed to NATO allies on Tuesday to provide more troops with fewer national restrictions for the alliance's most dangerous mission in Afghanistan, hours before a summit of allied leaders.

North Korea toys with us:

"Because after the nuclear test, we have gained a defensive position against those who are trying to suppress us. Now we are in a very confident position and so we are ready to come back to the talks any time," Kim told reporters.

Iran, well they just flat out win:

"[Iranian President] Ahmadi-Nejad's hand may in fact have never been stronger. With an ambitions nuclear program, the world's third largest oil reserves, a massive army and ballistic missile arsenal he's also gained huge popularity on the so called Arab street by supporting Hezbollah's recent fight against Israel.
Either way Tehran is now clearly a necessary destination for key players in the Middle East. "

And the fight-them-over-there argument doesn't seem to be working so well either:

He described al-Qaeda in Iraq as the "dominate organization of influence in al-Anbar," surpassing all other groups, the Iraqi government and U.S. troops "in its ability to control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni."

The last days of empire are upon us.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Annan on Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A quick addendum to my recent post on the civil war in Iraq -- and, yes, it's a civil war, no matter what they tell you. According to the Post, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was asked about civil war, and he said this:

Given the developments on the ground, unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there. In fact, we are almost there.

Almost? Annan's clearly not delusional, unlike Bush et al., but what exactly will it take before the doubters come to see that the civil war in Iraq is already well underway? What imaginary line still needs to be crossed?

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The case against Jane Harman

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With respect to the much-ballyhooed chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, I haven't exactly kept my support for Jane Harman hidden. I still think she's the right person for the job, but, if it's not to be, Rush Holt would be a fine choice (Josh Marshall thinks so, too.) And if not him, perhaps Silvestre Reyes. Anyone but Alcee Hastings.

My support for Harman puts me at odds with many of my liberal friends and fellow bloggers, including Glenn Greenwald (even if I agree with much of his assessment of the media's treatment of Nancy Pelosi), who has posted this:

So Harman has a history of defending the [Bush] administration's illegal intelligence activities. She was among the most gullible and/or deceitful when it came to disseminating the administration's most extreme (and most inaccurate) intelligence claims to "justify" the invasion of Iraq.

And so on (read it all). Glenn makes a compelling case (as usual). Harman's support for Bush's illegal domestic surveillance program may be a deal-breaker, but I'm not sure why her (mistaken) support for the Iraq War should necessarily disqualify her. Holt has been more consistent, but I tend to agree with Kevin Drum: "There... seems to be more than a whiff of retribution here against any Democrat who supported the war resolution, and that strikes me as pretty counterproductive. After all, nearly half the Democratic caucus supported the resolution, and we really don't want to declare every one of these folks persona non grata on all issues related to national security."

But, Iraq aside (and, yes, it's a big aside, but Democrats would do well not to excommunicate the Harmans among them), I do acknowledge that Harman hasn't been one of Bush's toughest critics. And for anyone who has objected to Bush's clear and present lawbreaking, as I have, that's a problem. (Although, perhaps her proximity to Bush on issues like surveillance would make her an even more compelling critic of such abuses in the chairmanship.) So let's just describe my support for Harman as "soft". She's not an ideal choice, but I think she would do well in the position.

(For more, see The Agonist, Yglesias, and Neil at Ezra.)

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The lies of Khartoum

By Michael J.W. Stickings

What a surprise.

It seems that the Sudan wasn't serious about agreeing in principle to a joint international (U.N./A.U.) peacekeeping force for Darfur. As I wrote at The Carpetbagger Report a couple of weeks ago, there was "some promising news coming out of Khartoum," but, of course, I was highly skeptical. And now the BBC is reporting this:

Sudan's president has rejected plans for a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur.

Speaking from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, Omar al-Bashir said he would only accept African troops under African Union leadership...

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said this month that Sudan had in principle backed a hybrid peacekeeping force.

But Sudan said it needed further discussions on many of the key issues.

Sure. Further discussion. Which means further genocide. The way to keep up the killing is to keep talking, to keep the U.N. on the brink of a breakthrough that will never come. Why does anyone even listen to Khartoum anymore? Why does anyone take Bashir seriously? Even if the Sudan eventually agrees to some sort of peacekeeping force for Darfur, that force wouldn't be able to do nearly enough to stop the genocide. And that's because Bashir will never agree to a force with teeth. At most, it would be there for show, as cover for the genocide that will continue regardless.

And, meanwhile, Bashir lies about Darfur:

He also denied reports that more than 200,000 people have died in Darfur, putting the death toll at under 9,000.

Bashir believes the Darfur crisis is the invention of the Western media, designed to deflect attention from military problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truly disgusting. Truly despicable.

A force with teeth, a force that can fight back, needs to be sent to Darfur. But "peacekeeping" isn't enough. Bashir and his atrocious regime need to be destroyed.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Look, kids, it's a civil war!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So... NBC has finally decided to call the sectarian violence in Iraq a civil war. Which is sort of like just now getting around to calling the violence in Kosovo genocide. Better late than never, I suppose, but the media's hesitation to sectarian violence a civil war has essentially belittled the violence, prevented them from taking it as seriously as it ought to have been taken, and prevented the American people from coming to terms with what's really been going on over there on the ground -- and what's going on now.

But at least NBC is on the right track. The same cannot be said for The Washington Post, which still refuses to use the "label" civil war to describe the situation in Iraq. Why? Because, says Post reporter Dana Priest (and you can see the video here), that paper "[tries] to avoid the labels" and -- get this -- because "the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war". Priest thinks it's a civil war, but what's wrong with using a label when it fits? Besides, even "sectarian violence" is a label. Even "elected government" is a label. There's a war going on in Iraq. And it's civil. There you go.

But it's even more ridiculous not to call the sectarian violence in Iraq a civil war because the Iraqi government says it isn't a civil war. As Think Progress puts it (link above), the Post's job -- or, for that matter, any serious, non-partisan news media outlet's job -- "is not to act as stenographers for officials in positions of power, but rather to report facts as they exist on the ground". Besides, the Iraqi government lacks authority and, in some respects, legitimacy. Why should its own definition of the violence be accepted uncritically? Why should the official Iraqi spin be regurgitated as if it's undeniable fact? After all, "[g]overnment officials in Iraq have a direct interest in avoiding the characterization of violence there as a civil war".

And so, too, does the White House, which sides with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. As reported at Mahablog, National Security Advisor Steven Hadley claims that "the Iraqis don't talk of it as a civil war". And how this for a delusional euphemism: "There is a high level of sectarian violence. It is a challenge for the Iraqis. It's a challenge for us." Sure is. (Press Secretary Tony Snow uttered similar nonsense.)

It doesn't do much good to get bogged down in largely semantic debates over terminology. But the news media have been far too slow to respond to the truth coming out of Iraq. And they've been far too lenient with respect to accepting whatever latest spin the White House tosses their way. They're coming around -- some of them, belatedly -- but it would help if they expressed some independence and not just called it like it is but reported it like it is.

Forget the White House spin. Forget the Maliki spin. It's civil war over there, and honest recognition of that bloody reality would go a long way towards dealing with it appropriately and finding a way out of the mess Bush made. Unfortunately, such recognition isn't likely to come from the people who need it most. Even if the American people come to see Iraq for what it is from NBC and the rest, Bush and his warmongers will remain hopelessly delusional.

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Sadr Nation

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Must-read: Jeffrey Bartholet has written a comprehensive cover story on Moqtada al-Sadr, the immensely powerful populist, nationalist, Islamic radical, Shiite leader, and mobster (all "rolled into one") who just "may end up deciding America's fate in Iraq".

A few key passages:

  • "More than anyone, Sadr personifies the dilemma Washington faces: If American troops leave Iraq quickly, militia leaders like Sadr will be unleashed as never before, and full-scale civil war could follow. But the longer the American occupation lasts, the less popular America gets—and the more popular Sadr and his ilk become."
  • "Sadr still insists his main fight is with foreign invaders. He's the one Shia leader who has opposed the U.S. occupation from the beginning, and who has continued to call for a strict timetable for American withdrawal. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis now agree with him."
  • "A key source of Sadr's income is Muslim tithes—or khoms—collected at mosques. But his militiamen also run extortion and protection rackets—demanding money to keep certain businesses and individuals 'safe.'"
  • "He's a militant Islamist and anti-occupation, they say, but he's also a nationalist, and not as close to Iran as some of his rivals. Nobody knows whether Sadr is dissembling when he speaks about Iraqi unity, or preparing for all-out war. What is clear—more today than ever before—is that it's time to stop underestimating him."
It's a fascinating piece. Take the time to read it.

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Defending Social Security

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Allow me to quote Atrios, favourably:

Look, people who advocate adding "personal accounts" to Social Security are just stupid people. Really, just morons. There's no reason to do it. There's no reason to take any part of Social Security contributions and put them in a little fund account with my name on it...

There is no problem with the Social Security system. People who continue to argue that there is -- and that the problem can be "solved" with the magic private accounts fairy -- either have broken brains or are attempting to push an agenda for ideological reasons or for personal enrichment for themselves and their kind.

He's right, and, as usual, he tells it like it is as bluntly as anyone in the blogosphere.

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Bahraini balloting

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Meanwhile, in Bahrain:

Bahrain's Shia Muslim opposition has won at least 40% of the vote in elections which saw women and liberal candidates fare poorly.

This election was "only the second time people have been able to vote for national MPs". Bahrain is essentially a constitutional monarchy. The two-chamber National Assembly includes a 40-seat Consultative Council, appointed by the king, and a 40-seat Council of Representatives, elected democratically from majoritarian single-member districts (if a candidate fails to receive a majority of the vote in the election, a run-off vote is held). Men and women over the age of 20 have the right to vote. Turnout was about 72 percent. One woman was elected out of 18 who ran. (For a Q&A on the election, see here. And see the Wikipedia entry here. For more on women in Bahraini politics, see here.)

There are no formal political parties, but there are so-called "political societies" instead. The main Shia opposition "society," Al Wefaq, boycotted the first election, in 2002, but it has done extremely well this time, winning "16 of the 17 seats the group was contesting". What this means is that there is now a significant and vocal opposition in one of the country's two legislative chambers, and Al Wefaq in particular "will be in a position to try to make changes from within government institutions". And it is an opposition that represents a majority of the Muslim population, which is 52 percent Shia and 38 percent Sunni (and which is 81 percent of the total population).

This election also proved to be a victory for Islamist groups on both sides, the Sunni Asalah and Al Menbar and the Shia Al Wefaq and Islamic Action Society. Four candidates from the leftist National Democratic Action (Wa-ad) have moved on to run-off votes, but otherwise Bahrain's more progressive groups did quite poorly. The liberal Economists Bloc lost its seats in the Council, as did the communist Democratic Bloc.

All of which provides a valuable lesson: Democracy and liberalism are not the same thing, and, in parts of the Muslim world, the former certainly does not guarantee the latter.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Correa triumphs in Ecuador

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So what's up in Ecuador? Well, the run-off vote between the top two candidates in last month's presidential election -- Alvaro Noboa (banana tycoon, Bible thumper, the country's richest man) and Rafael Correa (leftist economist with a Ph.D. from Chicago, populist, friend of Hugo Chavez) -- was held today, and, as the BBC is reporting, "exit polls and an unofficial quick count" put Correa well ahead of Noboa with around 57 percent of the vote. Correa has claimed victory. "We accept this victory with dignity and humility," he said. "We are just instruments of the power of the people." And he has "moved quickly to make policy announcements and appoint ministers".

And so -- for better or for worse -- the leftward drift of Latin America continues.

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A milestone

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For what it's worth, the Iraq War has gone on longer than U.S. involvement in World War II (if not yet WWII itself). It's now the fourth longest war in American history (or fifth, if the ongoing war in Afghanistan counts). But of course U.S. engagement in Iraq goes back much further than 2003. One could argue that the U.S. has been at war with (or in) Iraq since the Gulf War, the start of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (or perhaps since the start of Operation Desert Shield in 1990). But then, of course, it could be argued that World War II was just an extension of World War I. And Vietnam began well before actual U.S. military operations.

But no matter. The point is that the Iraq War in its current incarnation, from March 2003 to the present, has gone on too long already, far longer than its naively optimistic architects predicted. This milestone, however artificial, serves to remind us of all that has gone wrong with this war ever since it was dreamed up as a serious option in the minds of Bush and his warmongers. It's been a disaster. And each and every day only seems to bring more disaster. And yet, phased withdrawal or not, U.S. involvement will go on for a long time -- even if the bulk of the U.S. military presence leaves, there will still be a war and there will still be some U.S. involvement in that war. Which means there will be yet more milestones ahead.

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True story

By Heraclitus

Driving through the small town of Condit, Ohio today I saw a sign that read:


Almost immediately behind it was a sign for a church: "The most important vitamin in friendship is B1."

Boy, this New England-Chicago game is a real battle of the titans, isn't it?

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Rumsfeld and Abu Ghraib

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to former U.S. Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, "Rumsfeld authorized the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib". The U.S. commander at the prison until 2004, when she was relieved of her duties, she says she "saw a memorandum signed by Rumsfeld detailing the use of harsh interrogation methods". Reuters has the story here.

As Jack Balkin notes, "[t]hese are not new allegations by Karpinski," and, indeed, it has long been suspected that Rumsfeld signed off on the "methods" used at Abu Ghraib. (As I put it myself in May of last year in response to the trial of scapegoat Lynndie England, there was at the prison "a climate of abuse that was sanctioned by the highest reaches of the military and civilian establishment, including the highest reaches of the Bush Administration.) However: "Karpinski's statement is important because it suggests that there was more than mere confusion at stake, that this was not the accidental migration of CIA/Special Forces techniques to ordinary military detentions in Iraq. She is asserting that Rumsfeld deliberately approved techniques for Iraq that violated Geneva (and hence the War Crimes Act)."

Andrew Sullivan points to the incriminating evidence against Rumsfeld and adds: "[T]hat he actually signed off on key measures to inflict prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, and to violate the Geneva Conventions by ensuring certain prisoners were never registered (so they could be tortured without a paper trail) is news. All of this needs thorough Congressional investigation, and criminal charges if necessary."

There's no way Rumsfeld didn't approve of what happened at Abu Ghraib (and elswhere under his watch). If there's one thing we know about him -- and it's one of the things most evident in Woodward's State of Denial -- is that he's an obsessive micro-manager. He wanted to know what was going on, and he wanted to control what was going on, everywhere in the Pentagon and throughout the military establishment. There are other enablers of torture in the Bush Administration, including Bush and Cheney, and all of them ought to be held criminally responsible, but Rumsfeld was the link that made it happen.

And yet Rumsfeld remains a hero of the right. Which tells you what you need to know about the state of the right today.

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The end of the Iraqi government?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From The Mercury News:

Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis "terrorists" and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms...

With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relegated to the sidelines, brazen Sunni-Shiite attacks continue unchecked despite a 24-hour curfew over Baghdad. Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia now controls wide swaths of the capital, his politicians are the backbone of the Cabinet, and his followers deeply entrenched in the Iraqi security forces. Sectarian violence has spun so rapidly out of control since the Sadr City blasts, however, that it's not clear whether even al-Sadr has the authority -- or the will -- to stop the cycle of bloodshed.

This may well be the beginning of the end for the Iraqi government as we know it. And it may well mean an escalation in sectarian violence beyond even what we have seen in recent days. Governments that lose the airwaves cannot govern, and, as DHinMI notes at Daily Kos, historical precedence is bleak: "Many will recall that the Rwandan genocide began when Hutu radicals used state radio to call for the massacre of Tutsi and any Hutu who didn't support the massacre of the Tutsi."

As Senator Chuck Hagel puts it in the Post today, "[t]here will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq". Indeed, "[t]he time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed". Arguing that "[w]e have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam," Hagel calls for "a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq".

Hagel's piece has prompted a good deal of discussion and debate, and will no doubt continue to do so, but one thing now seems to be clear: Iraq will continue to spiral out of control with or without the U.S. on the ground. The details of phased withdrawal, as well as of what role and presence the U.S. would have post-withdrawal, still need to be hammered out, and there will be disagreement with respect to those details, and ultimately Bush will choose his own preferred course that may or may not involve phased withdrawal in the near-term. But it doesn't really matter anymore. The Iraqis are determining their own future, in Hagel's words. And they're doing it with blood.

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Iraq's self-sustaining insurgency

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A troubling report from the Times:

The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded...

The report offers little hope that much can be done, at least soon, to choke off insurgent revenues. For one thing, it acknowledges how little the American authorities in Iraq know — three and a half years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein — about crucial aspects of insurgent operations. For another, it paints an almost despairing picture of the Iraqi government’s ability, or willingness, to take steps to tamp down the insurgency’s financing.

Read the whole article. It's important. Aside from providing us with some of the details of the insurgency's financing, it reminds us once again how little the incompetent and perhaps criminally negligent architects of this disastrous war knew about what they were doing, about what they were getting the country into.

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Pinochet's bullshit

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the BBC: "Chile's former military ruler Augusto Pinochet has said he takes political responsibility for everything that happened during his 18 years in power."

Here's some of what he said (or rather of what his wife read on his behalf): "Today, near the end of my days, I want to say that I harbour no rancour against anybody, that I love my fatherland above all... I take political responsibility for everything that was done."

Everything? Well, certainly the coup that brought down the democratically-elected Salvador Allende in 1973. He claims to have had "no other motive than to make Chile a great place and prevent its disintegration," but, well, that's where the bullshit comes in. For he doesn't seem to understand what might be wrong about overthrowing a democratic government. And he doesn't take responsibility for the human rights abuses that were committed, but that's because he doesn't think any human rights abuses were committed.

For more, see this BBC profile of the former dictator: "It was he who ordered many of the purges that saw more than 3,000 supporters of the Allende regime killed, thousands more tortured, and many thousands more again forced into exile."

And see Costa-Gavras's powerful film Missing, with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

And see these important resources: Remember-Chile, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.


Now might be a good time to post the lyrics of "The Fletcher Memorial Home" by Pink Floyd:

take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
and build them a home
a little place of their own
the fletcher memorial home for incurable tyrants and kings

and they can appear to themselves every day
on closed circuit t.v.
to make sure they're still real
it's the only connection they feel
"ladies and gentlemen, please welcome reagan and haig
mr. begin and friend mrs. thatcher and paisley
mr. brezhnev and party
the ghost of mccarthy
the memories of nixon
and now adding colour a group of anonymous latin
-american meat packing glitterati"
did they expect us to treat them with any respect

they can polish their medals and sharpen their
smiles, and amuse themselves playing games for a while
boom boom, bang bang, lie down you're dead

safe in the permanent gaze of a cold glass eye
with their favourite toy
they'll be good girls and boys
in the fletcher memorial home for colonial
wasters of life and limb
is everyone in?
are you having a nice time?
now the final solution can be applied

General Pinochet is in there somewhere.

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