Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dick Cheney is stupid

By Michael J.W. Stickings

How else to explain this?

  • "Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had."
He can't possibly believe that, right? Any sensible person who has been paying attention to reality knows that Rumsfeld has been an unmitigated disaster, a massive failure of historic proportions. So Cheney is either grossly exaggerating to support a long-time friend who was fired and who many people now consider a disaster and a failure, or he's so utterly divorced from reality that he has come to believe his own lies and delusions.

Take your pick.

Think Progress has the video.

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Bayh bows out

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I must admit, I'm somewhat surprised:

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) announced today that he will forgo a run for president in 2008, citing the "long odds" he would face as a candidate who is not well-known nationally.

In a statement released early today, Bayh said, "After talking with family and friends over the past several days, I have decided that this is not the year for me to run for president and I will not be a candidate for the presidency in 2008."

The main reason for Bayh's decision was a belief that his chances of winning the Democratic nomination in a field likely to include such political heavyweights as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.)were not high enough to justify the commitment of time and manpower over the next two years.

His reasoning is sound. So is his sensitivity to political reality. With Clinton and Biden running from the center, Edwards and Obama running from the center-left, more or less, and Kerry and possibly Gore running from the left, as well as with Richardson, Vilsack, and Clark in the race, there wouldn't have been much room for Bayh -- just as there wouldn't have been much room for Warner, who bowed out a couple of months ago.

For more, see Pamela Leavey at The Democratic Daily.

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Scenes from behind the TimesSelect wall

By Creature

Dowd on Rummy's goodbye bash:

Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn’t sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.

Dowd on The Decider's big F.U. to his daddy's rescue:

W. seems gratified by the idea that rather than having his ears boxed by his father’s best friend, he’s going to go down swinging, or double down, in the metaphor du jour, on his macho bet in Iraq. He’s reading about Harry Truman and casting himself as a feisty Truman, but he’s heading toward late L.B.J. The White House budget office is studying how much it will cost to finance The Surge, an infusion of 20,000 to 50,000 troops into Baghdad to make one last try at “victory.” The policy would devolve from “We stand down as they stand up” to “We stand up more and maybe someday they will, too.”

There is nothing more dangerous than a lame-duck with his back against the wall.

Pay-per-view Dowd can be found here.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Running through the jungle

By Capt. Fogg

Mel Gibson sees himself as a victim and thinks he's been unfairly treated after his boozy transgression against public safety, his coy flirtations with Holocaust denial, his demented tirade against the Jews, and his resisting arrest. In a telephone interview, Gibson said:

But how many people do you know get a DUI and are kicked around for six months? It's out of proportion. I'm not saying I wasn't at fault. Hey we're not perfect, we're all human, get over it. I've apologized, done the right thing, now get the hell over it. I'm a work in progress.

He's definitely a piece of work of some kind, that's true, but since many people have gone to prison for what he got away with, the notion that, as he said to USA Today, he should get a target tattooed on his chest is just another smug and arrogant bit of the persecution-obsessed Mel Gibson.


"They're calling it blood porn. To make it personal against me, that's a low blow."

And it's just as low to take specific criticism of his movies as evidence that he's a victim and unfairly so. But is Apocalypto "the right thing"? As with his depiction of early-first-century Jerusalem, it depends on whom you ask. Believers don't question, historians and linguists disagree, and movie critics don't always get the point. Mayanist Elin Danien at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology writes in the Philadelphia Daily News:

Gibson has taken bits and pieces from various groups and time periods and mixed them together with a large dollop of his own feverish imaginings into a Chinese menu of "one from column A and one from column B," with no attempt at accuracy.

While the non-Mayan actors may be mouthing a modern Mayan dialect by rote, as Romans in The Passion of the Christ mouthed medieval Church Latin instead of Greek, they are not Mayans but rather native Americans from the American Midwest, and the more important the role, the more the casting reflects Gibson's biases. Gibson's Jesus, for instance, could have easily passed for a Northern European, while the nasty unbelieving Jews were as stereotypically Semitic as one would see in a medieval passion painting. In Apocalypto, says Danien, "we see fewer than a half-dozen people who are recognizably Maya in appearance."

Of course, that's a bit typical of old Hollywood casting and location selection (the film was shot in Vera Cruz, not in the Yucatan), but Gibson can only sneer and tell us that historical accuracy is more appropriate for the History Channel. What he sells is populist pandering full of blood, torture, and victimhood, and it's tempting to speculate that this fits with the personality and the dark fantasies of a man who thinks the Jews who control the world and start all the wars are out to persecute him.

If you want two gory hours of torture and human sacrifice, go see Apocalypto, says Danien: "If you'd like to learn something about the real lives of the Maya and other peoples of Mesoamerica before the Europeans arrived on these shores, visit the Mesoamerican galleries at the Penn Museum."

And you won’t be enriching an alcoholic bigot by doing it either.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Good riddance to the 109th

By Michael J.W. Stickings

No one does it better than Jon Stewart. Here's a great clip:

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Baghdad Today

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This map says it all. (From The Times, via Kevin Drum.)

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Global warming and rising ocean levels

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another ominous study:

The world's oceans may rise up to 140 cms (4 ft 7 in) by 2100 due to global warming, a faster than expected increase that could threaten low-lying coasts from Florida to Bangladesh, a researcher said on Thursday.

"The possibility of a faster sea level rise needs to be considered when planning adaptation measures such as coastal defenses," Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research wrote in the journal Science.

His study, based on air temperatures and past sea level changes rather than computer models, suggested seas could rise by 50-140 cms by 2100, well above the 9-88 cms projected by the scientific panel that advises the United Nations.

A rise of one meter might swamp low-lying Pacific islands such as Tuvalu, flood large areas of Bangladesh or Florida and threaten cities from New York to Buenos Aires.

The great hoax is becoming more and more elaborate all the time, eh? I mean, to keep coming out with all these studies that seem so genuine. What'll they come up with next?

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Worst. SecDef. Ever.

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Just turned on CNN. What's on? -- RUMSFELD TRIBUTE. Bush is speaking. Yadda fucking yadda.

And now I'm gonna throw up.


UPDATE: See Creature's post "Bizzarro World" over at State of the Day: "They know that they have made the world a more dangerous place. They know how wrong they have been, but yet they celebrate anyway. It's disgusting and disgraceful."

Agreed. I'm just not sure they think they're wrong. About anything.

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Vegetarians are smart

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to a new British study, "Children with high IQs are more likely to be vegetarians when they grow up".

Or, to put it another way, Lisa is smarter than Homer.

Makes sense to me.

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Jonah Goldberg is a moral degenerate

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not to mention a moron, a twit, an embarrassment, a fool, a joke -- indeed, a fucking idiot.

Since the recent death of Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former dictator, the American right has gone to great and morally vacuous lengths to come to his defence, to excuse him, to apologize for him, even to praise him. He wasn't nearly as bad as Castro (or Allende, whom he overthrew -- or any other socialist, for that matter), goes the right-is-always-better-than-left argument, and, what's more, he did some lasting good that outweighed the bloodletting. There was some killing, maybe even some torture, but, on the whole, he succeeded in transforming Chile for the better. He was a strongman, but he was also a strident anti-communist and U.S.-style free-marketeer.

There isn't even an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend self-awareness here. These apologetic conservatives unironically admire Pinochet. It starts with Thatcher, but his followers extend into the ranks of the American right. For more, see this post at CJR Daily (which also quotes -- favourably, I might add -- this blog).

But Jonah Goldberg takes the right's embrace of the deceased Pinochet to a new level. In his latest column at the L.A. Times, he writes that Pinochet is just what Iraq needs right now:

I THINK ALL intelligent, patriotic and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet. In fact, an Iraqi Pinochet would be even better than an Iraqi Castro.

Who says that the two options for Iraq are a Pinochet and a Castro? Regardless, he goes on:

Now consider Chile. Gen. Pinochet seized a country coming apart at the seams. He too clamped down on civil liberties and the press. He too dispatched souls. Chile's official commission investigating his dictatorship found that Pinochet had 3,197 bodies in his column; 87% of them died in the two-week mini-civil war that attended his coup. Many more were tortured or forced to flee the country.

But on the plus side, Pinochet's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure. And by implementing free-market reforms, he lifted the Chilean people out of poverty. In 1988, he held a referendum and stepped down when the people voted him out. Yes, he feathered his nest from the treasury and took measures to protect himself from his enemies. His list of sins — both venal and moral — is long. But today Chile is a thriving, healthy democracy. Its economy is the envy of Latin America, and its literacy and infant mortality rates are impressive.

I ask you: Which model do you think the average Iraqi would prefer? Which model, if implemented, would result in future generations calling Iraq a success? An Iraqi Pinochet would provide order and put the country on the path toward liberalism, democracy and the rule of law. (If only Ahmad Chalabi had been such a man.)

I have already discussed what Pinochet did to Chile -- see here -- and I won't repeat myself. Suffice it to say that Goldberg's understanding of Chilean history is -- how shall I put it? -- misguided. Pinochet led a coup against a democratically elected government, installed himself as dictator, and brutalized his country. There is a good reason why so many Chileans celebrated his death. How can Goldberg even begin to turn to "the plus side"? As Eric of Total Information Awareness puts it, Goldberg provides "almost a morale-crushing amount of ignorance to ponder". And he asks a key question: "I always wonder how someone like Jonah Goldberg would react if he were to find himself, transported in time and space, to a country like Chile in the mid to late 1970s. Do you think he would be so enthusiastic, so flip, so apologetic, so sycophantic?"

Surely not. Goldberg writes a column for the L.A. Times. He's a big-time conservative pundit. He's a regular on TV. What does he know about what Pinochet did to the Chilean people? How would he like to live in a country where people just disappeared? The ignorance here is astounding, but so is the amoral detachment from reality and so is the utter lack of compassion. Consider what the Chileans had to endure. Because Goldberg doesn't. For him, Pinochet's brutality -- indeed, brutality generally -- can be excused because he's so morally, emotionally, and intellectually bankrupt that he can't possibly understand what that brutality was. He represents everything that is wrong in American punditry. He is paid handsomely, one presumes, to write a column in which he opines without any regard for truth and without any connection to reality. He lives a comfortable life, one presumes again, but with such comfort, with such seclusion, with such detachment, with such disregard for consequences, comes moral degeneracy. And if he was morally degenerate before, which may well have been the case, the degeneracy has only deepened.

Within the parameters his editors set for him, he can, like other pundits, write whatever he wants. He can go on TV and say whatever he wants. He may stimulate discussion and debate, but he is effectively impotent. Who cares what Jonah Goldberg thinks about anything? Even writing this post I don't care. And yet there he is in the pages of a major American newspaper -- a newspaper that, unlike The Washington Post and various right-wing publications, did not excuse or defend Pinochet -- spewing such nonsense, such filth, such abject depravity. Should he not be held accountable?

But what of his argument that a Pinochet would be good for Iraq? I have read enough Machiavelli to know the case for a strong and even dictatorial leader who establishes sufficient order so that a more democratic rule may follow. But Iraq does not need a Pinochet anymore than it needs a Cesare Borgia. The world is not what it once was. Bloodletting for the greater good is not excused the way it once was. And what would the rule of an Iraqi Pinochet say about the U.S.? That it replaced one dictator with another, that the extent of its disastrous war was ultimately to maintain the yoke of tyranny? (That it is as morally degenerate as Goldberg himself?) What do you think the Iraqi people would say to that? Would they like a Pinochet to beat them into submission after decades of Saddam's tyranny? Would they like the sectarian violence to be replaced with the Saddam-like violence of a new U.S.-sanctioned ruler? I have also read enough Hobbes to know the case for a strong and even dictatorial government that maintains the peace so as to prevent society from slipping back into the state of nature. But, again, the maintenance of peace should, in these times, be possible without recourse to dictatorial brutality.

Goldberg's column is one of the most disgusting things I've read not just on the Iraq War but in general in the mainstream news media. There is no excuse for it -- ignorance is no excuse -- just as there is no excuse for Pinochet.

(For more, I recommend excellent posts by Eric of TIA (see above), Larisa Alexandrovna, Barbara O'Brien, Scott Lemieux, BooMan, Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Hayden, and Steven Taylor.)

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I love New Jersey

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I do. Seriously. Both for personal reasons -- I lived in Mendham for a few years and graduated from West Morris Mendham H.S. -- and for political reasons. What political reasons, you ask? Consider:

A) Same-sex marriage:

A bill to allow gay couples to form civil unions with all the rights and responsibilities of married couples won final approval in the Legislature this afternoon. Gov. Jon Corzine has indicated he will sign it into law, which would make New Jersey the third state in the nation to give same-sex couples the right to form civil unions.

The bill passed the Assembly 56-19, and the Senate on a vote of 23-12.

It is lawmakers' response to a state Supreme Court ruling in October. Citing the New Jersey constitution's guarantee of equal treatment, the court said the Legislature must provide a way for same-sex couples to obtain the same benefits as married heterosexual couples, whether or not it is called "marriage."

B) Stem-cell research:

After nearly two years of often heated debate and backroom negotiations, the Legislature today approved a bill that will provide $270 million to build and equip five stem cell and biomedical research facilities in New Jersey. The legislation now goes to Gov. Jon Corzine, who said he is excited to receive the bill and plans to sign it.

“I think we have a very, very good initiative to make a platform for New Jersey to be a leader,” Corzine said. "We will have created a critical mass of research facilities to be the lead in this field.”

The bill was approved 53-24 with 3 abstentions in the Assembly and 25-9 with 6 abstentions in the Senate.

There you go. What a state.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blanco blanko

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Very funny: "Call it a sign of the times for Louisiana's embattled governor: A chance to dine with Gov. Kathleen Blanco fetched a winning bid of $1 at a recent fundraising auction hosted by a group of business leaders."

Hey, I just found $1.12 under the couch! Is it too late to bid?

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Get well, Senator Johnson

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't commented yet on the situation involving Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, but I think it's a bit premature, as well as distasteful, to discuss what might happen if for whatever reason he is unable to remain in the Senate. (Yes, yes, the Republican governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds, could appoint a Republican to replace him, and then the Senate would be 50-50, and, with Cheney's tie-breaking vote, the Republicans would retain control. But, please, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Our focus should be on Senator Johnson's health.)

According to the Post, Johnson is "in stable condition... after emergency brain surgery, prompting optimism among family and friends and at least temporarily stanching speculation that the Democrats' narrow control of the next Senate might be in jeopardy".

See, it's all about the politics. Why? It's great news -- right now, more important news -- that he's in stable condition, and our thoughts should be with him and his family during this very difficult time. I understand that control of the Senate is important, and I myself hope the Democrats hold on to the majority they won in last month's midterms, but, again, this focus on what ifs, which started pretty much right when the news broke, rather repugnant. At least the politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, haven't succumbed to this media-driven obsession with winners and losers. Or at least they're saying all the right things in public. Trent Lott: "My expectation and hope is that Tim will recover fully and come back and we'll go to work. You know, I'd like to be in the majority, but I don't want to do it that way." Well put.

Here are the two paragraphs in the Post article that actually pertain to Johnson's health:

Johnson, 59, was rushed from his Senate office to George Washington University Hospital on Wednesday, suffering from bleeding in the brain caused by a congenital tangle of blood vessels, the U.S. Capitol physician said yesterday.

"He underwent successful surgery to evacuate the blood and stabilize the malformation," said the physician, Adm. John Eisold. He later said that Johnson "has continued to have an uncomplicated post-operative course. Specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required."

Our thoughts are with him. Get well, Senator Johnson.

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Which way will he go?

By Creature

Double down. Double dutch. Double Whopper with cheese. I have no idea which "new way forward" leak to believe, but Bush may yet grab the life-line extended to him by the ISG. Today's WaPo is reporting that cooler heads have prevailed seeing as how the Joint Chiefs are advising the president that the neo-cons, led by the leading-con, John McCain, are kinda crazy after all.

The nation's top uniformed leaders are recommending that the United States change its main military mission in Iraq from combating insurgents to supporting Iraqi troops and hunting terrorists, said sources familiar with the White House's ongoing Iraq policy review. [...]

The chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, said sources familiar with their thinking, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater U.S. effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation.

The article also states that the "military planning is well underway for a major change," "that any new strategy be sensitive to regional context" [this means no 80% solution and possibly no Mahdi army crackdown], and finally that "the chiefs planned to tell Bush of the significantly increased risk to readiness in the event of a new emergency, rather than push for a timeline to leave Iraq."

Leaving the timeline and troop withdrawal issues aside, and, yes, that's a big aside, it's hard not to see the practicality in all these suggestions especially when faced with the double-down leaks that have been thrust into the media by the neo-cons as exemplified on Sunday's Meet the Press [transcript here, the roundtable read is scary but worthy]. Now it all comes down to the president. Is he the "last neo-con in offfice," as Farid Zacharia suggested on Tuesday's Daily Show, or is he ready to stand down and leave the policy to the less belligerent folks in the room?

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Oversight and accountability

By Creature

The off-balance-sheet war no more. From the NYT:

Frustrated by the Bush administration’s piecemeal financing of the Iraq war, Democrats are planning to assert more control over the billions of dollars a month being spent on the conflict when they take charge of Congress in January. [...]

“We are now going on four years into this war and they are still funding it with these patchwork supplementals without oversight and without accountability,” Mr. Conrad said, “and that just has to stop.”

The teenager-in-chief may drive the car, but the Democrats now control the keys.

Budget more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Reaction on CNN

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A week ago today, The Reaction was featured in the internet segment of CNN's The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer's daily show. I was at work, but, thankfully, my good friend and co-blogger Creature was able to DVR it. And somehow -- from DVR to phone to Bluetooth to computer -- he was able to post the clip at YouTube. The quality isn't perfect -- make sure to turn up the volume -- but, honestly, Creature did an amazing job. I can't thank him enough.

The Reaction has been featured online at a number of major media outlets, as well as in print in The Boston Globe, but, as far as I know, this is the first time we've made it to TV. This isn't exactly the biggest or most influential blog in the world, and there are many blogs out there that get far more attention than we do, but I'm really proud of what we do here, all of us, and the attention we do receive both humbles me and motivates me to keep doing what we're doing.

(Hey, it's my birthday today. Allow me some sentimentality.)

The clip is below. The post is "The limitations of the Iraq Study Group" -- see here.

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A lost war: Pentagon planning and President Bush's final push for victory in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group has gotten most of the attention as Bush and his warmongers prepare some newfangled course of action that is now likely to revealed in the new year, but the truth is that the president is much more likely to listen to the Pentagon than to the family consigliere.

As I suggested a few weeks ago -- see here -- Bush seems to be taking a more hard-line approach than his critics, and the overwhelming majority of the American people, would like. He seems intent on giving it one last go, one final push, whatever it takes to "win" the disastrous war that he started over three and a half years ago and that has turned not just into a quagmire with no apparent positive outcome but into one of the worst military blunders -- indeed, one of the worst blunders generally, one of the worst foreign policy decisions -- in American history. He is not looking for a way out but for a way to stay in and "win," whatever that even means now. The ISG and its realist recommendations, however unclear some of them might be, offered him a way out with dignity but also with compromise. But this president loathes compromise, particularly when he is fighting for his very beliefs. For whatever the reality on the ground in Iraq, Bush believes in his war. His belief is fantasy, but he will stick with it. And even if cracks appear in his belief, in his faith, his stubbornness will keep him from pulling back.

And so it is not to the ISG that he will turn but to the Pentagon, the new Pentagon of Robert Gates. It seemed that a hybrid "Go Long" plan involving a short-term troop increase to combat the sectarian violence and a longer-term commitment to the training of Iraqi forces and a gradual withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. forces was percolating through the Pentagon and emerging as the preferred option, and now it seems that that plan, or some variation of it, will be precisely what the Pentagon recommends to Bush:

As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment and recommendations to Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory...

Such an option would appear to satisfy Bush's demand for a strategy focused on victory rather than disengagement. It would disregard key recommendations and warnings of the Iraq Study Group, however, and provide little comfort for those fearful of a long, open-ended U.S. commitment in the country.

Whatever else might be said of Bush, he has been consistent in his delusion and in his focus on winning. This plan may or may not work, although it is not clear how success would be measured. I have more confidence in it than in the plans that came out of the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Feith Pentagon only because more thought, more military thought, seems to have gone into it. But if success is measured as victory according to Bush, I suspect that even this thoughtfully crafted plan will fail. Rather than turn Iraq in the right direction, and so enable a dignified U.S. withdrawal and at least the spin of success, it will only put off the inevitable, which is an intense sectarian power struggle in a post-U.S. Iraq that could take decades to sort out.

Bush, I predict, will go with this Pentagon plan because it seems, to him and to those who think like him, less defeatist than the more complex set of recommendations presented by the ISG. But there will be no victory. The Iraq War -- Bush's war -- has already been lost.

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Good video

By Heraclitus

Imaginative title, eh? Well, check out Chris Clarke's video tribute to Bush and Rice. That's all I got.

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We win!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Texas's 23rd Congressional District, that is. Democratic challenger Ciro Rodriguez, a former congressman, defeated Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla in a run-off vote yesterday. Bonilla received almost 49 percent of the vote in last month's election but was reduced to 45 percent in the run-off:

Turnout for the runoff — the result of a court-ordered redistricting that reconfigured the normal election process in the district — was low.

This was in part because the Nov. 7 elections across the nation had already given the Democrats a decisive majority in their successful campaign to end a dozen years of Republican dominance in the House.

In fact, one of Rodriguez’ biggest added advantages in the runoff campaign was that he could boast of being a member of the House majority if he were to be elected — something he could not definitively claim before the primary, which coincided with the national Election Day.

Turnout also likely was affected by the fact that the runoff, a rare event in Texas politics, was held less than two weeks before Christmas.

Regardless, this is a big victory for Rodriguez, who defeated a fairly popular incumbent and his well-funded machine in a reconfigured district that seemed to favour the Republicans.

The House now looks like this:

  • Democrats: 233
  • Republicans: 202
Which is pretty impressive.

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Pots and kettles

By Capt. Fogg

The problem with the freedom of the press is, of course, that anyone can say almost anything, and so a country addicted to reading only that which affirms their paranoia, hate, bigotry, and stupidity will always have plenty to read.

We have been whipped into a near frenzy in recent years with lurid stories and slippery statistics about child abuse and child molesters. We've branded 4-year olds as sex offenders and we've forced many real sex offenders so far from society that they must live homeless in the woods. So when Mark Foley, the Republican Congressman from Florida’s 16th District, was exposed as someone who was interested in teenagers, one could have expected that his career would collapse, but, as I say, we have a free press and a free press owned by special interests, some of which are not interested in having the blame shared by those who looked the other way at Foley’s little affairs or simply managed to forget that they knew.

Judicial Watch, for instance, the folks who crucified Bill Clinton for an act between consenting adults, is still trying to shift the blame to the Democrats. They knew about Foley the would-be pederast, you see, so don’t think too hard about whether Hastert was told by several people, knew, and did nothing. Think instead about those who had the least ability to do anything about it. The ethical thing for the Democrats to do, according to their logic, would have been to let Foley be re-elected and then tell Hastert again so he could do nothing again.

Of course they don’t display their situational ethics quite so plainly, but their argument deconstructs that way. It's the timing, you see. The timing makes the guilty innocent and the timing shouts down the whistle blower. The timing makes it wrong to tell the truth and ethical to ignore it.

Never mind whether Hastert plainly knew.

"Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had prior knowledge of Foley's unethical and horrendous behavior yet denied knowing anything," says Judicial Watch, as though the sins of the guilty could be washed away by the blood of Emanuel. No Republican is guilty because one Democrat also knew – and then again, there's the timing. Republicans "took no action out of fear that it would create a scandal for the party."

That excuses them and that makes the Democrats guilty.

One wonders why they make the effort to present such a specious argument. Wouldn't it be simpler and more honest for this mouthpiece of the malignant Right to admit that it’s not about right and wrong but about what side you're on?

Of course, the House Ethics Committee whitewash uses much the same argument, as Ruth Marcus of the The Washington Post points out today. Of course, it was timed to be finished before the new Congress convenes, wasn't it?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Eat your soy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You know conservatives are crazy, right? Especially the anti-gay right? Well, just when you thought they couldn't get any crazier, out comes some evangelical idiot named Jim Rutz at WorldNetDaily, a forum for all things crazy, with the immensely stupid and completely unfounded argument that "[a] devil food is turning our kids into homosexuals". And what is that "devil food"? Soy:

There's a slow poison out there that's severely damaging our children and threatening to tear apart our culture. The ironic part is, it's a "health food," one of our most popular...

The dangerous food I'm speaking of is soy. Soybean products are feminizing, and they're all over the place. You can hardly escape them anymore...

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products.

I don't want to devote more space to this nonsense than I have to, but it's worth remembering that these sorts of arguments are out there in the public sphere and have traction not just on the extreme evangelical right but within conservatism more broadly. WorldNetDaily is a popular site, after all. Conservatives love it.

I would add, if I even need to, that there is no scientifically proven connection betwen soy consumption and homosexuality. Rutz fails to cite even a single study or to provide any basis for his "evidence," relying instead on homophobic hearsay and speculation. Anything to explain why "homosexuality is always deviant".

For more, see Shakespeare's Sister, Pharyngula, Feministing, World O' Crap, The Raw Story.

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Hammer head

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Tom DeLay has his own blog. But he doesn't write it. Here's how he put it on Hardball last night: "Well, I’m not a very good writer. I have the ideas, and I have somebody else put the words together."


(Think Progress has the video and transcript for your amusement.)


UPDATE: DeLay thinks Clinton will win in '08, with Obama as her running mate. And, to show once again just what a moron he is, he calls Obama a "Marxist leftist". And, what's more, he claims the new left-wing "coalition," whatever that means, is one big Clintonite plot.

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Factory work

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Post is reporting that the Pentagon is looking to create jobs at "nearly 200 state-owned factories abandoned by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003". The "goal is to employ tens of thousands of Iraqis in coming months, part of a plan to reduce soaring unemployment and lessen the violence that has crippled progress".

What a novel idea. Why the hell wasn't a plan like this implemented in -- oh, I don't know -- 2003?! Why wasn't it part of the immediate reconstruction and counter-insurgency efforts? Oh, that's right, because the warmongers didn't think much about reconstruction and a likely insurgency, imagining that the country would just rebuild itself happily and peacefully after being liberated.

You know, an insurgency was inevitable. There was no way to avoid anti-American backlash and the awakening of latent sectarianism. But U.S. policy -- both what the U.S. did (disbanding the army, excessive de-Baathification, etc.) and what it didn't do or didn't do enough of (preventing looting, projects to build infrastructure and create employment, establishing cross-sectarian Iraqi leadership early on, etc.) -- has allowed the insurgency to become what it is today, which is to say, a seemingly intractable obstacle to peace and security.

And it's a little late now to try to make up for those failures.

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Gore's goals

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Al Gore, according to the AP, is pursuing an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth and possibly, just possibly, also the presidency. "I haven't completely ruled it out," he said.

The Carpetbagger considers a Gore candidacy here: "Now that Gore seems to be opening the door just a crack, he’ll have to consider whether a) those people who haven’t seen much of him since 2000 can be won over; b) whether he wants to try; and c) whether he’ll be willing to endure media jokes about Al Gore 3.0."

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Excusing Pinochet

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Washington Post has an editorial today on the life and legacy of Pinochet. The first two paragraphs address Pinochet's tyranny. Sort of. While acknowledging that "[m]ore than 3,000 people were killed by his government and tens of thousands tortured," that "[t]housands of others spent years in exile," and that a criminal trial in Chile was "richly deserved," the editors point prominently to Salvador Allende's "responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup". The editors thankfully do not go so far as to blame Allende entirely, nor to equate him morally with Pinochet, but the overall purpose of their piece is to excuse Pinochet, to be his posthumous apologists.

And this becomes clear over the next four paragraphs of the editorial. The editors note that "the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America," "a vibrant democracy":

Like it or not, Mr. Pinochet had something to do with this success. To the dismay of every economic minister in Latin America, he introduced the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle -- and that not even Allende's socialist successors have dared reverse. He also accepted a transition to democracy, stepping down peacefully in 1990 after losing a referendum.

All this, the editors claim, proves Jeane Kirkpatrick (and Ronald Reagan) right: "[R]ight-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies."

To be fair, Allende was a Marxist whose economic policies were not entirely successful -- and certainly not popular with some segments of the Chilean population, nor with the U.S. and its business interests in the country, such as ITT, which was tied in with the CIA and which supported Pinochet's coup. And it may be that the Friedmanite reforms of Pinochet's Chicago Boys -- deregulation, privatization, deficit reduction, export expansion, etc. -- contributed to Chile's economic success. Under Pinochet, GDP grew, inflation fell, and the economy solidified.

But what were the costs of this "miracle"? The Chicago Boys' reforms also included severe cuts to social services, notably health care, as usual disproportionately burdening the poor. Unemployment skyrocketed from 3 percent in 1972 to 25 percent in 1977. During the debt-fueled economic crisis of 1982-83, unemployment hit 33 percent. Wages declined throughout Pinochet's rule. Monopolies drove out competition. Poverty and homelessness worsened. And the gap between rich and poor widened significantly. Indeed, the beneficiaries of Chile's "miracle" -- the beneficiaries of neoliberalism generally -- were the rich.

And it could not last. Pinochet's rule -- as well as the economic "miracle" it allegedly spawned -- relied on extensive military spending, social and political oppression, anti-communist fearmongering, and foreign loans. Pinochet stepped down in 1990 after losing the 1988 referendum, but long before that resistance and opposition to his dictatorial rule had taken hold of the country. And he had no intention of stepping down without a fight. For him, the referendum was about securing an eight-year term, not about establishing democracy. And he stepped down only because the Chilean people voted him out of office -- 55 to 45. He remained commander-in-chief of the army. And he avoided justice, and any and all accountability for what he had done, through his position as senator-for-life.

Regardless of the relative success or failure of Pinochet's economic reforms, however, the fact remains that he killed thousands and imprisoned and tortured many thousands more. Many just disappeared. Say what you will about Allende, he wasn't a mass murderer. And the problem with the view espoused by Kirkpatrick, put into practice by Reagan, and endorsed here by the Post is that it excuses all manner of brutality in the name of economic neoliberalism. No matter the social consequences, no matter the negative impact on all others but the rich. Whether it's Pinochet or Marcos or Noriega or any other rightist dictator, it's all about anti-communism and extremist free-market reforms. Those reforms and their dubious successes justify whatever brutality enabled them.

Chile is doing relatively well today, but Pinochet's true legacy is his tyranny. The ends do not justify the means, particularly when the ends are in question, and dubious reforms hardly justify mass murder.


For more, see Glenn Greenwald and Ariel Dorfman.

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Old way dead

By Creature

As the president gropes for a new way forward people continue to die.

A suicide bomber targeting poor laborers killed 60 people in Baghdad on Tuesday hours before President George W. Bush was to review his unpopular Iraq policy in a video teleconference with U.S. military commanders in Iraq..

With Bush's god ready to forgive him, and history ready to vindicate him, it's no wonder that today (metaphorically speaking) means nothing to him.

Reality more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Kennedy un-supports Kerry

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Boston Globe is reporting that "Senator Edward M. Kennedy [has] dropped his public commitment to support Senator John F. Kerry in a 2008 presidential race, saying that he won't wait 'indefinitely' for Kerry to declare his intentions while the Democratic primary field takes shape." He "still might support Kerry if Kerry decides to run," and will in fact do so if that decision is made "in the near term," but in an interview with the Globe he "offered strong praise" for Clinton and Obama.

I respect Kennedy's consistently loyal support for Kerry, but maybe he just wants to back a winner.

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Hitchens on Pinochet

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Hitch has a good piece on the life and legacy of Pinochet at Slate: "His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century... Chile and the world are well rid of him..."


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Fred Barnes is a dangerous idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For any number of reasons, but here's a particularly good one: Because he thinks Bush should bomb Iran "the day before he leaves office".

Don't believe me? Crooks and Liars has the video to prove it.

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Flunking Silvestre Reyes

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From CNN:

Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tapped to head the Intelligence Committee when the Democrats take over in January, failed a quiz of basic questions about al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of the key terrorist organizations the intelligence community has focused on since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

When asked by CQ National Security Editor Jeff Stein whether al Qaeda is one or the other of the two major branches of Islam -- Sunni or Shiite -- Reyes answered "they are probably both," then ventured "Predominantly -- probably Shiite."

That is wrong. Al Qaeda was founded by Osama bin Laden as a Sunni organization and views Shiites as heretics.

Reyes could also not answer questions put by Stein about Hezbollah, a Shiite group on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations that is based in Southern Lebanon.

So, let's see. Reyes supports a troop increase in Iraq and doesn't know some basic facts about al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Jane Harman looks better and better all the time, doesn't she?

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Barnes is the new Haggard

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The hypocrisy and sexual repression of the evangelical right seemingly have no bounds. It was Ted Haggard not too long ago. Now it's Paul Barnes:

In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life.

"I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy," Barnes said in the 32- minute video, which church leaders permitted The Denver Post to view. "... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away."

Sure. Was he just crying himself to sleep? Or was he not also revelling in his genuine self, allowing himself moments of fleeting authenticity before beating himself back into the closet and overcompensating for his perceived flaws not just by denying himself but by lashing out at all others like him?

But you know what? He'll get away with it. Just like Haggard will. He'll say all the right things. He'll talk of his life-long struggle against sin, of fallen man. He will repent and find redemption, and he will be forgiven, because those in his church cannot bring themselves to admit that homosexuality not only is not a sin but is natural and normal.

Ah, but I'm in no mood to delve into Christian fiction. The problem comes when these lies and delusions are spewed from the pulpit, when gays and lesbians are vilified and kept down politically, when some impressionable boy or girl who doesn't know any better and who looks to these hypocrites for guidance comes to think that what he or she is doing or feeling is wrong and sinful, when men and women remain in the closet throughout their adult lives and hide their pain behind the facade of holier-than-thou righteousness.

There are no doubt many more like Haggard and Barnes. Their stories should be cause for reflection and growth, but instead I fear the lies and delusions will only harden.

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The real central front

By Creature

While politicians debate their big, face-saving, one last push into Iraq the real central front in the so called "war on terror" is spinning out of control. Today's NY Times details the creation of a "Taliban mini-state," where suicide bombers line-up to sign-up and the terror training goes unabated. As Matthew Yglesias notes: "The sad factor of the matter is that if we haven't already passed the tipping point in the Afghanistan/Pakistan area, we will have very soon." And Bush will leave another mess for his predecessor (or maybe his daddy) to clean up.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXVII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Another bloody day: "Gunmen attacked two Shiite homes in western Baghdad, killing 10 people, police said Sunday, while seven others died in clashes elsewhere in the capital."


At the Post, David Rothkopf offers a sober assessment of U.S. involvement in the Middle East:

[H]owever we may try to extricate ourselves from Iraq today, the best we can hope for is an end to only this latest chapter of U.S. military involvement in the region. There is no getting out of the Middle East. Even if we leave now, we'll be back.

Back for a "Third Gulf War". Read the whole piece.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

And now... let's turn to the news in Madagascar.

There was a presidential election yesterday, and incumbent Marc Ravalomanana avoided a run-off vote and won re-election with about 55 percent of the vote. Ravalomanana is a dairy tycoon and the former mayor of Antananarivo, the country's capital city. His party is called Tiako i Madagasikara, which means "I love Madagascar". He beat 13 challengers to hold on to the presidency. Eight of those challengers supported a military coup to oust him from power last month. His main opponent, Pierrot Rajaonarivelo, lives in exile in France following the disputed 2001 election, faces arrest should he return, though he tried to return before the election and was prevented from entering the country, and was eventually barred from running.

There's more on the election at Wikipedia. The BBC also has a Q&A.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

No more "war on terror"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In Britain, at least.

From The Observer: "Cabinet ministers have been told by the Foreign Office to drop the phrase 'war on terror' and other terms seen as liable to anger British Muslims and increase tensions more broadly in the Islamic world."

Now there's a thought. Avoid angering Muslims and increasing tensions throughout the Islamic world. You know, try to be a bit more sensitive to the nuances of cultural, political, and religious difference. Show some understanding, some compassion. Reach out. Try to figure out why they think what they think and do what they do. Put ourselves in their shoes. Avoid talk of "us" and "them," of "good" and "evil". Think outside the military-industrial box.

Do you think that would work better than bombing the crap out of them?

It would, but the F.O.'s advice may not mean much. Chancellor of the Exchequer (and possible Blair successor) Gordon Brown used the phrase "war on terror" recently. And the U.S. State Department put it this way: "It's the president's phrase, and that's good enough for us."

If Bush says it's a war on terror, it's a war on terror. Unfortunately, that's not good enough for the rest of us.

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A criminal war

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Bush's Iraq War is a "dereliction," "deeply immoral," and maybe "criminal".

He said "criminal" on Thursday on the Senate floor. He said "dereliction" and "deeply immoral" today on ABC's This Week. Crooks and Liars has the video.

My friend and co-blogger Creature has more -- much more -- at State of the Day.

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Pinochet croaks

By Heraclitus

Just in case you haven't heard, here's the news story. May he rot in hell.


UPDATE: The only good reason for an obituary is to remember his crimes. The BBC has one here. See also the Post here.

Margaret Thatcher, who ought to have no credibility left at all after this, was "greatly saddened" by Pinochet's death. Yes, you read that right: "greatly saddened."

But what does the baroness care about what Pinochet did to Chile, about how many lives he destroyed, about the abuses he committed? She was his friend and ally right up until the bitter end, and in that friendship is her character revealed. So I don't give a shit that she was "saddened" by his death.

Some of Pinochet's supporters gathered in Santiago to mourn his death, and there have been outbreaks of violence, but, in general, there has been celebration:

Thousands of jubilant Chileans streamed into the streets of Santiago after hearing that their former president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, had died Sunday. Many danced and popped open champagne, while caravans of cars with horns blaring toured the capital for hours.

"These people are not celebrating the death of anyone. It is to celebrate the end of a cycle of so much pain, so much dictatorship, so much torture," said Jorge Salinas, 50, as he threw confetti into traffic. "Pinochet signified many deaths, so much suffering for us. That's why you see such happiness in most of the people. That's why they are celebrating."

And today, by the way, is International Human Rights Day. How fitting.


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The Natty Light version of Christianity

By Heraclitus

Since it's Sunday morning, why not a post on Christianity? A somewhat disapproving one, to be sure, but one which disapproves of a tiny strain or brand of Christianity in the name of a more genuine and less embarrassing version. The problem here is that I can hardly claim to be a Christian, so there might be something a bit supercilious about my doing so. It's why I never went to one of the Latin masses they performed on the campus where I was a graduate student. I didn't want to have to explain afterwards, "I'm an atheist; I'm just here for the aesthetics." So, far be it from me to tell others what their faith should look like. But, on the other hand, nothing should look like this. I'd try to describe it, but Twisty has already done so so well, I'll just quote her.

The nutjobs call themselves “Godmen” (slogan: “When Faith Gets Dangerous”) and, like most godmen, they’re idiots. Their beliefs, which appear to be have been synthesized from a mass inability to grasp that video games aren’t real, congeal around the romantic idea that Jesus was not a gentle, lamb-loving, leper-curing pansy, but was in fact the Jesinator, an American Navy Seal/superhero in steel-toed sandals running amok through Jerusalem, wrecking temples and — yes — swearing. So at their ritual meetings the Godmen — more than a few of whom, I suspect, struggle with teeny-peeny issues — sit around swearing like the asskicking he-man Jesus was, swelling with pride that they were blessed with the godly gift to be profane.

I wouldn’t give a flip about yet another dopey Christian delusion, except that this one’s got a built-in get-into-heaven-free card for dudes who purposely behave like pricks, and there’s a reciprocal clause which prohibits the women who for some reason haven’t dumped their Godmen yet from uttering a word about the toilet seat.

That’s right. They’ve actually worked the toilet seat thing into a religion! Hilarious!

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Bush's gag rule = 500,000 deaths a year

By Heraclitus

Speaking of immature control-freak bullies/borderline sociopaths giving Christianity a bad name -- well, with that set-up, you know this post is about the policies of the Bush administration. Jill at Feministe has an important post discussing an article reporting that the Bush administration's "gag-rule" -- their refusal to provide funding to any health clinics overseas which even mention abortion -- causes half a million deaths a year. From the article:

While world attention has focused on the HIV/Aids pandemic, public health experts say that United States political interference and declining financial support for family planning, abortion and prevention of other sexually transmitted infections has contributed to shockingly high death and disability rates in developing countries.

Approximately 500 000 women die each year of causes related to pregnancy, abortion and childbirth, 99% of them in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

"These deaths would not be tolerated in other circumstances," says Dorothy Shaw, senior associate dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

As Jill explains, legalizing abortions doesn't make them more common, just safer. In fact, the countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world are those where abortion is most readily available.

In places where abortion is legal, it’s one of the safest medical procedures around — safer than taking penicillin, and safer than childbirth. Legalizing abortion also doesn’t have much of an effect on the abortion rate — South Africa is one example that the article cites. Also consider that the abortion rate in Brazil, where the procedure is illegal, is higher than the abortion rate in the United States. And the countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world are the ones where the procedure is not only safe and legal, but widely available, affordable, and sometimes even free. How do they do it? Widely available and affordable contraception; cultural values that don’t demonize sexual activity, but recognize it as a natural part of the human condition and therefore something that we should all take responsibility for; and comprehensive sexual health education. To quote something our fine president never said (but certainly could have), “It’s not rocket surgery.”

Another example of how destructive Bush's crabbed ideological style of governing is.

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