Saturday, February 17, 2007

Year of the Golden Pig

By Michael J.W. Stickings



New Year,


(The Year of the Golden Pig comes around just once every 60 years. Let's hope it's a good year.)


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A tale of two houses: Congress does, and does not, rebuke Bush on Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As you may have heard, the House yesterday passed a resolution criticizing Bush's handling of the Iraq War, specifically the surge that is already underway:

Capping four days of passionate, often angry debate, the House yesterday delivered President Bush its first rebuke since the Iraq war was launched nearly four years ago, voting 246 to 182 to oppose the administration's planned deployment of 21,500 additional combat troops to Iraq.

Seventeen Republicans voted with all but two Democrats to approve a resolution that expresses support for U.S. combat forces but opposes the additional deployments. Democrats portrayed the vote as a bipartisan slap at the White House, but Republican leaders kept GOP defections below even their most optimistic estimates, as the debate crescendoed to a dramatic close yesterday.

Although the measure is nonbinding, proponents and opponents delivered outsized predictions of the vote's consequences. Democrats asserted that it will begin to turn the political tide so decisively that the president will have no choice but to begin bringing U.S. forces home, while Republicans warned darkly that the House has emboldened murderous Islamic terrorists at the expense not only of American lives but also of America's way of life.

Neither side, I suspect, is right -- and I say this as someone who supports the Democrats in this matter and opposes Bush, the Iraq War generally, and its Republican advocates.

Although seven Republicans voted with the Democrats, the resolution looks more like a partisan slap than a statement of congressional opposition to Bush's policy. Plus, it's toothless. Bush can, and will, ignore it, just as has ignored pretty much everything else his critics have said and done throughout his presidency. Congress may to some degree reflect the popular will, and the popular will may have serious reservations about Bush's handling of the war in general and of the surge in particular, but Bush, as we know all too well, is stubborn and self-righteous. He will continue to do as he pleases. It will take more than a non-binding resolution to stop him. Unless many more Republicans turn against him, in public and not just in private, that is, unless many more of them vote according to what they really think about the Iraq War and not with the party line, nothing will happen.

But at least the Democrats have the popular will behind them. At least they are looking for a way out of this disastrous war. The Republican argument that this non-binding resolution only serves to embolden terrorists is just the latest iteration of the divisive "you're either with us or you're against us" argument that Bush and his allies have been pushing since the very early days of the so-called war on terror. Now it's "you're either with the president on the surge or you're with the terrorists". Or, to put it another way, "you're either with the president or you're against America and the American way of life, a traitor and an enabler of terrorism that kills Americans".

Democrats, to their credit, haven't given in. More than ever, the Republican threat rings hollow. Americans know that being against Bush on Iraq isn't being with the terrorists, whether in Iraq or elsewhere. Democrats must continue to stand firm.


The story was vastly different at the other end of the Capitol. Whereas the House passed its resolution, albeit a non-binding one, the Senate didn't manage to pass anything. Not for lack of trying, mind you. The Democrats tried to pass a resolution akin to the one the House passed, but the Republicans blocked them. In a Senate divided 51-49 and with filibuster rules firmly in place, the minority can do that:

Senate Republicans today blocked a floor vote on a House-passed resolution that expresses disapproval of President Bush's plan to send thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq, as a procedural motion to cut off debate on the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed.

It was the second time this month that minority Republicans successfully filibustered a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop buildup.

Senators voted 56-34 to invoke cloture and proceed to a floor vote on the resolution, with seven Republicans joining all the chamber's Democrats in calling for an end to the debate. But the motion fell four votes short of the threshold needed under Senate rules.

Still, the message was clear, if as toothless as the one coming out of the House: Congress opposes Bush's surge in Iraq. Which is to say, applying the two votes more broadly to the war as a whole, Congress has essentially expressed its lack of confidence in Bush's handling of the Iraq War. In a parliamentary system like the one in Britain and Canada, this would have been a no-confidence vote so significant as to bring down the government. In the U.S., all it means is that the president can carry on as if nothing happened.

Which is, to repeat, what will happen.


The seven Republican senators who voted with the Democrats were John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Susan Collins of Maine. Give it up for them.

The one non-Republican senator who voted with the Republicans was "Democrat" Joe Lieberman. As usual, he deserves nothing but our contempt.

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Terror by proxy

By Creature

Wednesday, the president held a press briefing where he promised to "do something" about Iran. Later, I speculated that the president was indeed already doing something, that something being a proxy war wherein the United States supports the very same terrorist tactics that we have sworn to abhor. This was the news out of Iran on Wednesday:

A car loaded with explosives blew up near a bus carrying members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran, killing 18 of them, the state-run news agency reported today.

Iranian officials blamed the bombing on the United States and our backing of insurgents--al-Qaida affiliated insurgents, no less--who carry out such attacks in hopes of destabilizing the country. Yesterday, this low-level, allegedly U.S. backed, insurgency carried out another attack, which, along with Wednesday's attack, the Associated Press characterized as a "sharp flare-up of violence" in an area of Iran that is used to quite a bit of violence.

Police and insurgents clashed after a bombing in southeastern Iran late Friday near the site where an explosion killed 11 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards this week, Iranian news agencies reported.

The Associated Press also reported yesterday that one of the insurgents arrested in connection with Wednesday's bombing had spilled the beans and "confessed that the attacks were part of alleged U.S. plans to provoke ethnic and religious violence in Iran."

Ugly stuff, if true, and very much in keeping with the history and character of the men who currently occupy the White House.

Ironic, if false, seeing as how exaggerated, if not fabricated, evidence and baseless innuendo is the core of Bush's Iranian foreign policy today.

Update: And, as if wished upon a star, here is Glenn Reynolds, of wingnut fame, exemplifying the "ugly" and "ironic" in a few easy to digest sentences:

Hmm. Maybe I spoke too soon in criticizing the Bush Administration for doing nothing about Iran. On the other hand, this sort of thing has been simmering in Iran for a while, and Iranian claims of American involvement are hardly conclusive evidence. In fact, they're hardly evidence at all.

On the one hand, Reynolds is completely willing to accept our backing of terrorist activity in Iran (so, we are now fighting ourselves over there so we don't have to fight ourselves here) and, on the other hand, he reveals a baseline wingnut hypocrisy by questioning the evidence Iran has collected while he accepts every shred of evidence coming out of the Bush administration as smoking-gun gold.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, February 16, 2007

From Darfur to Chad

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the BBC:

The violence in Chad could turn into a genocide similar to that in Rwanda in 1994, the UN refugee agency has warned.

The UNHCR says the killing tactics from neighbouring Darfur in Sudan have been transported to eastern Chad in full.

The U.N. and the A.U. seem confident that a joint "border peace force" will be established, but:

Concern is now growing for the 200,000 refugees who sought shelter in eastern Chad.

The conflict in Darfur has followed them across the border with attacks by Janjaweed Arab militia on camels and horseback leaving hundreds dead and 110,000 people homeless.

I don't know nearly enough about the situation in Chad, but now might be a good time to educate ourselves. Thankfully, the BBC has a good deal of background, including a country profile, a timeline, a Q&A on and results of last May's presidential election (which I also wrote about at the time -- see here), a piece on the rebel alliance, and an examination of Chad in relation to its neighbours. In addition, see this piece and this piece on last year's battles between rebels and government forces, as well as this piece on the situation in the eastern part of the country, next to Darfur.

See a map of the "conflict zones" on the border with Darfur, with an explanation of how and where the violence is spreading, here.

See also photos of the Janjaweed in Chad here and of the aftermath of battle here.

Pay attention to this story.

Genocide is spreading. Will we do anything about it now? Or will Chad, like Darfur, become yet another Rwanda?

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When conservatives aren't funny

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Conservatives aren't funny. They think they are, and their base loves the partisan potshots they consider humour, but mature, intelligent comedy isn't what they do best. As if to prove that point, the incomparable Fox News (comparable only to state-run TV stations of the former Soviet bloc) is debuting its Daily Show rip-off The 1/2 Hour News Hour this Sunday. There are clips at YouTube should you desire a preview. And check out Troy Patterson's pre-review at Slate: "The mind strains to conceive of political humor that might be less humorous..."

As for the comparison with The Daily Show, what conservatives don't understand is that Jon Stewart's satire is not partisan in nature. He's liberal and generally Democratic, but his satire is spread evenly across the spectrum. If Republicans are the targets of a majority of it, it's only because one of them occupies the White House and because until just a few weeks ago they were in the majority in Congress. And, too, there's that dastardly disastrous war launched by the Republican president, his Republican warmongers, and his Republican rubber stampers in Congress. What have Democrats done to deserve equal treatment?

And yet Stewart targets Democrats, too. He may have been more sympathetic to Kerry than to Bush in '04, but Kerry was often satirized, if not ridiculed, throughout the campaign. So were Howard Dean and John Edwards. And one of Stewart's friendliest guests has been John McCain. Furthermore, Stewart has made fun of the new Democratic leadership of both houses of Congress as well as the leading Democratic presidential contenders. Indeed, as any regular viewer knows -- and I suspect many of The Daily Show's conservative critics are not regular viewers, or, if they are, only view it through an ideological prism -- the show has spent far more time covering Clinton and Obama than anyone on the Republican side.

For example, consider this hilarious send-up of the leading Democratic contenders referenced by Patterson: "The fact-based setup found John Edwards bounding across a blue-draped dais to 'Our Country,' John Mellencamp's populist jingle/Chevy anthem. The Daily Show then presented us with Obama at the same event, rescoring things so that he walked to the podium to the chorus of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' -- a more incisive joke on Obama-mania and political theater than the News Hour's whole bit. For a kicker, they juxtaposed footage of Hillary with some vixenly bars from Kelis: 'My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard...'"

Obviously, we'll have to wait to judge The 1/2 Hour News Hour -- if we bother to watch it, that is. For it all seems like partisan comedy for the converted and propagandized, comedy that isn't funny at all, vitriol masquerading as satire. Conservatives may long for a right-wing rival to The Daily Show, and this show may satisfy them, but they evidently don't get The Daily Show -- they don't get what makes it so funny, so edifying, so culturally important. Besides, what they want isn't satire but potshots at their enemies, perceived and real alike.

And just to prove that point, here's a sneak preview of the show that appeared on a recent Hannity & Colmes. You'll see what I mean. (Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are in it. That should tell you all you need to know.)

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Friday afternoon poem

By Heraclitus

The poem this week is one that I always find particularly affecting. It's by Galway Kinnell, whose poem "The Cellist" I posted here. "Freedom, New Hampshire," the poem below, is about death and loss, and I was weeping most of the time I was typing it out, as I usually do when I read it. Speaking of which, one of the reasons these themes have been on my mind lately is the beautiful things Chris Clarke has been writing about the decline and death of his wonderful dog Zeke. If you don't know about Chris Clarke's blog, Creek Running North, I urge you to give it a look. Chris is one of the most talented writers I've encountered among bloggers; he can write dazzling and moving posts on everything from natural history and biology to his own past to progressive politics to literature (and he may well be the funniest person on the planet). If you thought I was a bastard for posting Updike's "Dog's Death," try reading this without breaking down:

There will be years and years, each small forgetting a betrayal, each small betrayal a comfort, each small comfort another death. There is no lesson here, no lesson. Narcissus sought himself reflected in the world and found only death. Plums will bloom until there are no more plums. I will join him diffused into the soil, our component atoms intermingled one day soon, a dog and a man who walked together for a time, a brief spark of sweetness in an aching world.

This is another of many on Zeke. And this is something very different, and much more chilling. But I can't possibly indicate the richness and diversity of his blog with a few links.

Also, Kaveh, if you read this, I hope this poem helps a little. I don't know how it really can, but at least it will be less banal and lame than what I've had to say the last couple of times we've communicated.


Galway Kinnell

Freedom, New Hampshire


We came to visit the cow
Dying of fever,
Towle said it was already
Shoveled under, in a secret
Burial-place in the woods.
We prowled through the woods
Weeks, we never

Found where. Other
Children other summers
Must have found the place
And asked, Why is it
Green here? The rich
Guess a grave, maybe,
The poor think a pit

For dung, like the one
We shoveled in in the fall,
That came up a brighter green
The next year, that
Could as well have been
The grave of a cow
Or something, for all that shows.


We found a cowskull once; we thought it was
From one of the asses in the Bible, for the sun
Shone into the holes through which it had seen
Earth as an endless belt carrying gravel, had heard
Its truculence cursed, had learned how human sweat
Stinks, and had brayed -- shone into the holes
With solemn and majestic light, as if some
Skull somewhere could be Baalbek or the Parthenon.

That night passing Towle's Barn
We saw lights. Towle had lassoed a calf
By its hind legs, and he tugged against the grip
Of the darkness. The cow stood by, chewing millet.
Derry and I took hold, too, and hauled.
It was sopping with darkness when it came free.
It was a bullcalf. The cow mopped it awhile,
And we walked around it with a lantern,

And it was sunburned, somehow, and beautiful.
It took a teat as the first business
And sneezed and drank at the milk of light.
When we got it balanced on its legs, it went wobbling
Toward the night. Walking home in darkness
We saw the July moon looking on Freedom, New Hampshire,
We smelled the fall in the air, it was the summer,
We thought, Oh this is but the summer!


Once I saw the moon
Drift into the sky like a bright
Pregnancy pared
From a goddess who had to
Keep slender to remain beautiful --
Cut loose, and drifting up there
To happen by itself --
And waning, in lost labor;

As we lost our labor
Too -- afternoons
When we sat on the gate
By the pasture, under the Ledge,
Buzzing and skirling on toilet-
papered combs tunes
To the rumble-seated cars
Taking the Ossipee Road

On Sundays; for
Though dusk would come upon us
Where we sat, and though we had
Skirled out our hearts in the music,
Yet the not-yet dandruffed
Harps we skirled it on
Had done not much better than
Flies, which buzzed, when quick

We trapped them in our hands,
Which went silent when we
Crushed them, which we bore
Downhill to the meadowlark's
Nest full of throats, which
Derry charmed and combed
With an Arabian air, while I
Chucked crushed flies into

Innards I could not see,
For the night had fallen
And the crickets shrilled on all sides
In waves, as if the grassleaves
Shrieked by hillsides
As they grew, and the stars
Made small flashes in the sky,
Like mica flashing in rocks

On the chokecherried Ledge
Where bees I stepped on once
Hit us from behind like a shotgun,
And where we could see
Windowpanes in Freedom flash
And Loon Lake and Winnipesaukee
Flash in the sun
And the blue world flashing.


The fingerprints of our eyeballs would zigzag
On the sky; the clouds that came drifting up
Our fingernails would drift into the thin air;
In bed at night there was music if you listened,
Of an old surf breaking far away in the blood.

Children who come by chance on grass green for a man
Can guess cow, dung, man, anything they want,
To them it is the same. To us who knew him as he was
After the beginning and before the end, it is green
For a name called out of the confusions of the earth --

Winnipesaukee coined like a moon, a bullcalf
Dragged from the darkness where it breaks up again,
Larks which long since have crashed for good in the grass
To which we fed the flies, buzzing ourselves like flies,
While the crickets shrilled beyond us, in July.

The mind may sort it out and give it names --
When a man dies he dies trying to say without slurring
The abruptly decaying sounds. It is true
That only flesh dies, and spirit flowers without stop
For men, cows, dung, for all dead things; and it is good, yes --

But an incarnation is in particular flesh
And the dust that is swirled into a shape
And crumbles and is swirled again had but one shape
That was this man. When he is dead the grass
Heals what he suffered, but he remains dead,
And the few who loved him know this until they die.

For my brother, 1925-1957


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Wisdom of the penguins 2: Kyoto in Canada

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've decided to turn much of our coverage of global warming over to our two intrepid environment reporters, Alan and Marlene. We first introduced them as they were discussing the IPCC report and posing for tourists at Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands. They're penguins, you see. That's Alan over there on the left, taking an early-morning stroll and, if I'm not mistaken, contemplating beach erosion.

When I last heard from them, yesterday afternoon, they were discussing the recent events in Ottawa.

Canada was one of the earliest signatories of the Kyoto Protocol -- signing on April 29, 1998 under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Whatever the Liberals' record on the environment -- and, admittedly, it wasn't great -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government, a minority government, opposes Kyoto altogether. The Tories have been trying to look green ahead of a possible spring election, a transparently strategic move given Canadians' clear focus on global warming, but in new leader Stéphane Dion the Liberals have an environmentalist with whom Harper simply cannot compete. So there have been all the negative ads from the Conservative spin machine. And there will be more, along with more commitments to spend more on this or that, all for the Conservatives to appear to be what they are not.

But the Liberals are fighting back.

Alan: Hey Marlene, did you hear from your cousin in Ottawa?

Marlene: Guy?

Alan: Right, Guy.

Marlene: He e-mailed me just now.

Alan: And?

Marlene: Well, the Liberals united with the other opposition parties, the NDP and the BQ, to push through a pro-Kyoto bill over the objections of the government. It passed 161-113.

Alan: Wow. I assume Harper ignored it.

Marlene: At first he said he would ignore it even if it became law, which it will. The Liberal-controlled Senate will pass it. But that would mean the government ignoring Parliament, a constitutional crisis.

Alan: And now?

Marlene: He's pulled back. He said today he'll respect the legislation, which calls for Canada to meets its Kyoto targets by 2012 but that the legislation is essentially meaningless. Once passed, the government will have 60 days to come up with a plan.

Alan: But Kyoto isn't flawless. Would Canada even be able to meet its targets?

Marlene: Maybe, maybe not. But this is politics. The Liberals look good for having united with the other parties in support of a bill to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, while the Conservatives look bad for having opposed it. And now the Conservatives either go along with the Liberal bill, ignore it at great risk, or come up with their own new plan, which would mean boosting the profile of global warming as an issue with an election likely right around the corner. And, try as they might, the Conservatives won't be able to beat the Liberals on that issue. It could decide the election. If Dion and the Liberals get their act together.

Alan: So the Liberals have boosted their electoral fortunes?

Marlene: I would say so, yes. It was an effective response to Tory negativity and Harper's lame attempts to look like a friend of the environment. And if playing politics helps the Liberals win the next election, well, so be it. At least then a Dion government would actually do something about greenhouse gas emissions, not just look like it was doing something to win votes.

Alan: I hope you're right, Marlene. I really do.

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Waste and corruption in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As if so much else hasn't gone wrong in Iraq, consider the waste:

About $10 billion has been squandered by the U.S. government on Iraq reconstruction aid because of contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses, and federal investigators warned Thursday that significantly more taxpayer money is at risk.

The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done.

More than one in six dollars charged by U.S. contractors were questionable or unsupported, nearly triple the amount of waste the Government Accountability Office estimated last fall.

"There is no accountability," said David M. Walker, who heads the auditing arm of Congress. "Organizations charged with overseeing contracts are not held accountable. Contractors are not held accountable. The individuals responsible are not held accountable."

At least the warmonger-in-chief was held accountable, sort of, in November's midterms, along with his rubber stampers in the House. And at least his power-tripping SecDef was booted out, finally, if never really held accountable for what happened on his watch.

But isn't it side-splittingly funny how the tax-obsessed warmonger-in-chief -- the man who slashed taxes on the rich and who now wants to slash social programs for the poor -- has waged a war so thoroughly wasteful and corrupt in its implementation? As Cernig puts it, "[t]hese people are playing fast and loose with someone else's money... YOURS!"

You're paying for this disaster of a war. And you're paying for more than you think.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sadr in Iran?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(A follow up to this post.)

Via Ed Morrissey, the AP is reporting that Moqtada al-Sadr is in Iran (at least according to the Iraqis):

An adviser to Iraq's prime minister said Thursday that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran, but denied he fled due to fear of arrest during an escalating security crackdown. Sami al-Askari said al-Sadr traveled to Iran by land "a few days ago," but gave no further details on how long he would stay. A member of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals, said he left three weeks ago.

"I confirm that Muqtada al-Sadr is in Iran on a visit," said al-Askari. "But I deny that his visit is a flight."

Oh, okay. I'm sure now's as good a time as any for a vacation in Iran. Get some rest, come back when the surge is over, and get right back to the business of terrorizing (and working with Maliki to obliterate the Sunnis). You know how it is.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #42: Desperate Housewives dolls

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The title of this SOTA post pretty much says it all.

The Madame Alexander doll company -- the existence of which may be a SOTA all on its own -- is coming out with a limited line of dolls of the five major Desperate Housewives characters. Here's how they're described at a page on doll collecting:

Wouldn’t it be fun to have fashion dolls fashioned after the ladies of Desperate Housewives? You could have a Gabriella doll dressed in beautiful, yet revealing outfits. A Bree doll dressed impeccably, if a bit prim. An Edie doll dressed, well... in a bit of a trashy manner. And a Lynette super mom doll all dressed up for work and family fun. Well... imagine no more! For 2007, Madame Alexander dolls is introducing a line of Desperate Housewives dolls based on the hit ABC series. The dolls are 16" tall, in vinyl, and will fit all Alexandra Fairchild Ford fashions. They are extremely limited to only 350 pieces each, and will retail for $129.99.

Oh, so much fun! You can create your very own Wisteria Lane in the comfort of your own home! You can even act out scenes from the show! And no one will ever know you're a loser!

Just note, that's $129.99 each -- and each, according to IMDb, comes with "character-appropriate styling".

For more, see Leora Israel Zellman's Desperate blog (yes, another possible SOTA): "My biggest concern though is that the dolls won’t do well because Desperate Housewives fans are older and don’t play with dolls. I can see crazy fans like myself getting them as keepsakes but I just don’t think the dolls will be all that popular."

Right, they're too mature for dolls. They just watch the stupid show.

Oh, speaking of Wisteria Lane -- check this out (another SOTA).

I can't wait for Real Doll (another SOTA, a serious one) to get in on the action. Just imagine the possibilities with life-like silicone reproductions of Susan (Teri Hatcher), Bree (Marcia Cross), Edie (Nicollette Sheridan), Gabrielle (Eva Longoria), and Lynette (Felicity Huffman). You could dress them up and... well, whatever.

Here's one more SOTA: The image above is the cover of Fashion Doll Quarterly. Say that with me again: Fashion. Doll. Quarterly. The very existence of such a publication is a sign of bad times ahead, is it not?

Okay, here's one more: Desperate Housewives Lingerie. Wait, that's not a SOTA. It sounds like a SOTA, but... well, check it out for yourselves.

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Yet another scapegoat

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As CNN is reporting (via Think Progress, which has the video), "the White House is now blaming the anonymous intelligence briefer who presented the information" on alleged "Iranian arms shipments into Iraq" last Sunday. That was the evidence-free briefing that was supposed to provide the smoking gun of Tehran's direct connection to the violence in Iraq, you'll recall. (And the one that was supposed to give Bush the cover he needs to launch some sort of military action against Iran.)

For this White House, as we know all too well, the buck stops anywhere but there. Bush's presidency is a culture of irresponsibility where blame for whatever goes wrong -- and a lot has gone wrong -- is conveniently heaped on scapegoats: Democrats, the media, the CIA and the intelligence community, Iraqi puppets, the U.N., war critics, etc. Above all, it's never Bush's fault, never the fault of the policymakers around him.

Failure in Iraq has been and will be blamed on these and other scapegoats, and now, with war against Iran looming out there on the horizon, the scapegoat is some poor schmuck who was most likely only doing and saying what he was told to do and say.

Remember the Simpsons episode where Bart becomes an instant celebrity on Krusty's show when he blurts out, upon knocking the set over, "I didn't do it"? His celebrity quickly wanes as his line grows old and the public moves on, but what we have with Bush is a presidency of which such irresponsibility, the unwillingness to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong, is a defining feature. The line has grown old, but nothing has changed.

You expect it from Bart, rascal that he is. And maybe you even expect it from Bush. It just makes a difference when it's the president of the United States and the matter at hand is war.

[Creature's Note: Once again, Michael's words, my cut-and-paste. Ignore all references to me below.]

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A tale of two headlines

By Creature

My Inbox is very confused.

As I noted yesterday on State of the Day, either way GWB says: "What matters is, is that we're responding."

More confusion can be found here .

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Death certificates for aborted fetuses

By Heraclitus

Via Nezua, this story about a legislative proposal in Tennesse:

Legislation introduced in Tennessee would require death certificates for aborted fetuses, which likely would create public records identifying women who have abortions.

Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Republican, said his bill would provide a way to track how many abortions are performed. He predicted it would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate but would have a hard time making it through the Democratic House...

The number of abortions reported to the state Office of Vital Records is already publicly available. The office collects records — but not death certificates — on abortions and the deaths of fetuses after 22 weeks gestation or weighing about 1 pound.

The identities of the women who have abortions are not included in those records, but death certificates include identifying information such as Social Security numbers.

As Nez comments:

Yes, good idea. And I can see how Republicans would be for keeping track of deaths by the intensity with which they are pushing for a body count in Iraq.

It's an interesting experiment in time-travel this fella is proposing. You know, getting your death certificate before you have cause to be given a birth certficate.

Most interestingly, this little snifter of Tennessee poison proposes the attachment of a woman's SS# on the Death Certificate. I they can make sure to affix the proper number of gold stars on her TIA profile? It's very thoughtful of Mr. Campfield (R-TN). Maybe we should thank him.

While I'm linking to The Unapologetic Mexican, check out this post on the bravery Obama is displaying, and the poor quality of much of the reporting on him and his campaign.

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The rise of Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's the follow-up to my post from yesterday on Sunday's Turkmen presidential election. Go there for context, background, links, and images.

The results are in. And they're what we expected.

Acting President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (there are alternate spellings of his names) won the election with over 89 percent of the vote. (The updated Wikipedia entry, including useful references at the bottom of the page, is here.)

How's that for mock democracy? This was about as farcical and corrupt an election as it gets.

And the Turkmen people now get a fool to carry on Niyazov's authoritarianism.


But don't expect much in the way of meaningful criticism from the West.

As the BBC is reporting (link above), today's inauguration was attended by "senior diplomats from around Central Asia and the world, including Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher". Their presence provides Berdymukhamedov with just the sort of legitimacy, both domestic and international, that the farcical, corrupt, and quite likely rigged election does not.

And whatever noble rhetoric about freedom and democracy emanates from the shallow idealism of our leaders, what really matters here are Turkmenistan's huge natural gas reserves and its strategic location -- Iran to the south, Afghanistan to the south-east, the other 'Stans to the north and east, China not too far away. It may be a North Korea-like tyranny, but our principles are no match for our self-interest -- such is the power of amoral realism in geopolitics.

The oppression of the Turkmen people goes on. And we, not caring much at all, enable that oppression for the price of access to gas and a foothold in Central Asia.

Understandable, perhaps, but shameful.

[Creature's Note: Michael's words, my cut-and-paste. Ignore all references to me below.]

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Missed Opportunity

By Creature

New information has surfaced today about the 2003 attempt by the Iranians and the Swiss to cut a deal with the Bush administration. A deal that included "an end to Iran's support for anti-Israeli militants, action against terrorist groups on Iranian soil and acceptance of Israel's right to exist." A deal that was rejected by the White House (read Cheney) when hubris was the name of the game. The new information comes in the form of a previously undisclosed cover letter which "was provided by a source who felt its contents were mischaracterized by State Department officials."

"I got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the U.S. now and to try it with this initiative," Tim Guldimann, the [Swiss] ambassador, wrote in a cover letter that was faxed to the State Department on May 4, 2003. [...]

Guldimann wrote that he had several long discussions with Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran's ambassador to France -- and also nephew to the foreign minister and brother-in-law to Khamenei's son. According to Guldimann, Sadegh Kharrazi reported going "through every word of this paper" with Khamenei, Khatami and the foreign minister. "The question is dealt with in high secrecy. Therefore no one else has been informed," Kharrazi added.

The supreme leader had reservations on some points but agreed with 85 to 90 percent of the road map, and "everything can be negotiated," Kharrazi said, noting any reservations could be discussed at the first bilateral meeting. Kharrazi added: "There is a clear interest to tackle the problem of our relations with the U.S. I told them, this is a golden opportunity." Guldimann noted that the "lack of trust in the U.S. imposes them to proceed very carefully and very confidentially."

If the administration does launch any kind of preemptive war against Iran this rejected attempt at a negotiated settlement will go down as one of the biggest blunders in the history of American foreign policy (even bigger than Iraq because the blowback from a war with Iran will have far greater and graver consequences) and proves, once and for all, that Cheney's Middle East wars are about oil and nothing more.

The Washington Post has the scoop. Steve Clemons has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Sadr to Iran?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

ABC News is reporting that Moqtada al-Sadr left Baghdad for Tehran "two to three weeks ago," a move that "coincide[d] with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad". The source -- "senior military officials," whatever that means.

Sadr may or may not be in Baghdad now -- there are conflicting reports, according to CNN -- but it makes sense both that Sadr would leave Baghdad for Tehran and that U.S. officials would claim that he has left Baghdad for Tehran. Consider:

1) Why he would leave: The intent of the surge is to secure Baghdad, but Sadr's friend and ally, Prime Minister Maliki, hopes to direct the surge against the Sunni insurgents while protecting the Shiite militias, including Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr would find safety in Tehran until the surge is over, whereupon he would return to Baghdad with the U.S. pulling out, the Sunni insurgency weakened, Maliki still in office, and his own militia still strong.

2) Why the U.S. would claim that he has left: The U.S. is currently trying to make the case, evidence aside, that Iran is directly supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with weapons to use against both Sunnis and Americans, perhaps in preparation for a war with Iran. The supply of weapons to Shiite militias would presumably be interpreted by those pushing for war with Iran as an act of war to which the U.S. could respond. Even if Sadr hasn't left Baghdad, the claim that he has done so would reinforce his ties to Iran, or the perception thereof. (Connecting Sadr to Iran also means connecting Maliki to Iran. What this would mean is that the U.S. has already given up on Maliki and is preparing to pull out and lump Baghdad and Tehran together.)

Of course, all it would take for Sadr to disprove the U.S. claim would be for him to appear in public, or on TV, in Iraq, preferably in his own Baghdad neighbourhood. And that may yet happen. (#2 seems unlikelier than #1, and I present #2 largely because I am highly skeptical of whatever the U.S. claims.) But whether he does or not, the connection has been made. It's out there. And it can be built upon as the case for war against Iran is made.

Remember -- It's all about Iran now, not Iraq. The Iraq War is past, the Iran War is future. The U.S. has backed Maliki, but it will soon give up on him, pull out, and blame the Iraqis for not doing enough on their own. At that point the U.S. will have enemies in both Baghdad and Tehran, but the enemy will be the same: Iran.

And that means war.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Turkmen vote

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In case you missed it, Turkmens -- that is, the citizens of Turkmenistan -- went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The previous president, Saparmurat Niyazov, died in December. He had ruled the country since 1985, when it was still a Soviet republic. He was a brutal authoritarian dictator who manufactured a cult of personality to sustain his perpetual rule. He was, in fact, the country's president-for-life. (Here's an obituary at the BBC. It includes examples of his "bizarre laws," including a ban on music.)

If there's a country that comes close to North Korea, Turkmenistan may be it.

Here's a statue of Niyazov the Turkmenbashi, leader of all Turkmens:

He spent elaborately on projects of self-glorification at the expense of the people. Here -- irony of ironies -- is the so-called House of Free Creativity in Ashgabat. (It was dedicated to the free press. Needless to say, there is no free press in Turkmenistan.)

Required reading in Turkmenistan is Niyazov's own Ruhnama, or Book of the Soul: "Ruhnama is compulsory, imposed on religious communities and society generally. The work is the main component of education from primary school to university. Knowledge of the text – up to the ability to recite passages from it exactly – is required for passing education exams, holding any state employment, and to qualify for a driving license. Public criticism of or even insufficient reverence to the text was seen as the equivalent to showing disrespect to the former president himself, and harshly punished by dispossession, imprisonment or torture of the offender or the offender's whole family if the violation was grave enough."

For more images of the Niyazov cult, see here.

But back to the election:

Six candidates were running for president, all of them from the same party, the
Democratic Party, Niyazov's party. It is Turkmenistan's only official political party. The nominee of the opposition Republican Party, largely a party-in-exile, was not approved to run in the election. In other words, there is still no opposition in Turkmenistan. Niyazov may have died, but one-party authoritarianism continues. There may have been an election, but there was no democracy. It was all a farce.

The likely winner of the "election" is former dentist
Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, the acting president since Niyazov's death. That's him on the left. Judging from what I've read about him (and from this one rather unflattering photo), Turkmenistan is still in serious trouble. Or, at least, the Turkmen people are. Their lives likely won't improve. And they may get worse. What is to become of Turkmenistan now?

The new president will be announced and sworn in tomorrow. We'll have an update at that time.

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White House's wishful thinking on Iraq

By Libby Spencer

Back in the days before I took up political punditry and had better eyesight, I used to read a lot of fantasy fiction. The books, generally set in medieval times, inevitably featured a lot of battles and the one thing I learned about warfare is you equip and train your troops before you attack your foes. This is a lesson that apparently escaped our military geniuses. We invaded Iraq with an estimated $56 billion equipment shortage and have struggled ever since to stay abreast of the escalating need for new armaments.

Apparently the White House learned nothing from this in the last four years, since Bush has insisted on launching the new escalation in Baghdad at a time when the Army lacks more than 4,000 of the latest Humvee armor kits to equip the new incoming troops. Not that they're likely to do all that much good, even when they do get them installed.

U.S. commanders have voiced frustration recently at the ability of enemy fighters in Iraq to change tactics to defeat U.S. protective gear. "Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just a matter of months ago is now being in fact challenged by some of the techniques and devices over there," Adm. William J. Fallon, the new U.S. commander for the Middle East, said last month.

Overall, Army equipment backlogs had grown so severe, Anderson said, such a troop increase would not have been possible last year. He said the Army is in a far better position now, thanks to an infusion of $17 billion last year to replace and repair equipment.

Even more depressing is our billions of dollars worth of Humvees are being beaten down by devices that cost the insurgents about ten bucks to make while our $5.9 million dollar helicopters are being shot down with ground fire from inexpensive hand held weapons. At those prices, you can sure that the insurgents have not spent over $400 billion to keep us at bay all these years. We're the only country that has that kind of money to squander on improbable tactics and most of our money has gone into the pockets of favored military contractors and not to the troops.

Perhaps the Pentagon should have spent more time reading fantasy fiction themselves before they concocted their fairy tale strategies.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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To arms!

By Capt. Fogg

As if to illustrate my point yesterday about the complexity of the international arms trade; the many under the table and through the back door ways arms are paid for and find their way from the major suppliers like China and the United States to end users both legitimate and illegitimate, CNN ran a story this morning. It seems a large shipment of arms originating in China and Russia and destined for Libya by way of Italy and Malta was interrupted by Italian police. That the story did not run under the headline "China supplying terrorist Libya with arms" has more to do with the fact that The Bush Administration is not playing "pin the evidence on the donkey" in this case as it so often has done.

According to the BBC, world governments spend more than $700 billion on their armed forces every year and official annual arms sales total $30 billion. That leaves well more than half a trillion dollars worth of arms in the category of "unofficial" and puts countless weapons in the hands of terrorists and criminals and enables genocide and mayhem in Africa and elsewhere.

Needless to say, it isn't just the Russian bear or the Chinese dragon selling weapons and washing their claws of responsibility; the USA sells more arms than the next six arms distributing nations combined. The US supplied weapons to Iran to use against Iraq and to Iraq to use against Iran and it's likely that some of these are being used against us as are weapons made in countries we don't care to blame at the moment. Someone as cynical as I am might be tempted to say that we are in no position to preach and in no position to blame other nations whose weapons show up in embarrassing places.

I am still not sure that Iranian weapons are being found in Iraq in quantity, but if they are, I am even less sure that we can use this as evidence that the government of Iran is involved in supplying Iraqi militias. That General Peter Pace shares this opinion is not being widely covered in the press and this suggests that the ability of the White House war mongers to shield their deceptions from contrary evidence remains in place. Even so, I think we can all feel the resistance building.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Is there a deal with North Korea?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Maybe: "Envoys from six nations reached a tentative agreement early Tuesday on the first steps toward North Korea's nuclear disarmament, a potential breakthrough in talks that have faltered repeatedly since 2003."

But there are no public details yet, and the agreement still needs to be approved by the six participants -- including North Korea -- prior to ratification.

And even then... who knows?

Cue the cynicism.

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Proof, shmoof

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yeah, so about that "proof" that Iran is supplying arms to Iraqi Shiites -- you know, the "proof" presented at the secret press conference the other day without much in the way of evidence. Libby wrote about it here, debunking it.

Well, the debunkers aren't alone. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace hasn't seen much evidence either:

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran," Pace told Voice of America during a visit to Australia. "What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this."

"It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved," he continued, "but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

Perhaps he doesn't know anything. Perhaps he didn't get the memo.

Or perhaps -- and this seems far more likely -- perhaps there really isn't any proof at all, just the same old warmongers trying to lie and spin their way into yet another war in the Middle East -- another disastrous war.


Kevin Drum summed up what many of us are thinking: "Still, everyone is skeptical, and who can blame them? The current gang in the White House would have to provide videotape of the Ayatollah Khamenei himself attaching tailfins to one of these things and putting it in a box labeled 'Baghdad -- ASAP' before I'd be willing to take any action based on this latest dog and pony show."

I would add this: I'm skeptical and don't trust the source of this "proof," but such skepticism and distrust would be healthy and necessary even without the experience of Iraq. There are simply too many holes here.

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Reversing America's un-American drift

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Blue Jersey, Senator Dodd (CT) will sponsor -- along with co-sponsors Senators Menendez (NJ), Feingold (WI), and Leahy (VT) -- the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007, a bill that, if passed, will (as puts it) "restore Habeas Corpus protections to detainees, bar information acquired through torture from being introduced as evidence in trials, and limit presidential authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions".

A bill for habeas corpus and against torture? How very... American.

And how very sad that such a bill is needed today.

But needed it is. Simply put, President Bush has dislodged America from her principles. In waging war -- the war on terror, the Iraq War, and perhaps wars still to come -- on his own terms, he has struck at the very soul of his own country. And the world, not to mention many Americans themselves, have taken notice. They see an America that tortures, that renders detainees for torture abroad, that deprives detainees of their basic rights, that holds detainees indefinitely even without evidence of guilt. They see an America that is no longer truly American, the America of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the America that disregards the Geneva Conventions, the America without checks and balances.

In response, much of the rest of the world has turned away, hearts and minds no longer aligned with what is widely perceived to be such an abusive imperial power.

At home, however, there are efforts underway, such as this bill, to reclaim America, to take her back from those, like Bush, who have sought to redefine her in profoundly un-American ways and according to profoundly un-American principles.

It is time for the real patriots to restore America.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Sign of the Apocalypse #41: Over-the-counter hard-ons

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Once upon a time, and for thousands and thousands of years, men had erections. And did things with them. There was erectile dysfunction, no doubt, but humanity survived. Generations and generations of copulation, for procreation or for pleasure -- or for less admirable purposes.

Enter Pfizer. Enter Viagra. Enter Cialis and all the rest for all the others. The little blue pills were meant for a medical condition, or so it seemed, and that was a good thing. Why should men condemned to flaccidity, not to mention their partners, not enjoy the benefits of the erect penis? Modern medicine triumphed. Progress ruled.

But as with all other medication, it was not long before it was abused. After all, why should men not want to enjoy the benefits of the 72-hour erect penis? Or whatever. Think of the pleasure to be had. Think of the partners to be pleasured. Flaccidity -- be damned! The little blue pills could be taken by any and all, medical condition or not.

But where does it end?

For we have now arrived at this:

British pharmacy chain Boots will begin a trial program on Valentine's Day to offer men the anti-impotence drug Viagra without a prescription.

The initial pilot program is expected to last six months, and Boots will then consider whether to expand it to other pharmacies. The chain has about 1,500 stores across Britain.

The pilot will be offered in three of the chain's stores in the English city of Manchester, 300 kilometres northwest of London.

Would-be customers between the ages of 30-65 will be required to see a pharmacist, provide a medical history and have their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels tested.

The cost? £50 for four little blue pills. Over here that means about $97 American, $115 Canadian. Pricey, no? Better make sure your partner's Viagra-worthy.

Think of the room for abuse here. Will the little blue pills end up with the dysfunctionally non-erectile? Or with the functionally erectile who just can't get enough? The pills were meant for a medical condition, but now, OTC, they may pose a health risk to a new generation of men who desire a pharmaceutical aid to fuel what normally comes naturally to them.

Behold the raging hard-on, a symbol of our pleasure-seeking time, surely a sign of impending civilizational apocalypse.

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A new China?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'll let the Globe explain this one, our amusing photo of the day: "Mascots cheer at a Beijing event called 'Welcome the Olympics; use civilized behaviour; create a new atmosphere' aimed at making the city’s 15 million people model citizens before the 2008 Summer Games."

Call it totalitarianism with a smile.

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White House proffers "proofs" without a face on Iran

By Libby Spencer

As promised, the White House has delivered its "proof" that Iran is secretly arming Shia militia with these new IEDs. Cernig has already exposed the holes in their theory to the point of making Swiss cheese of their spurious contentions so I won't repeat it here. Go over and read his post but I will add this much.

If the White House is so secure in their intel, why did they provide it in a super secret press conference where it was presented by some unnamed sources and reporters were not allowed recording devices or to photograph the evidence but were instead provided a pre-made Pentagon disk of photos? I have a theory about that.

I'd guess that they've learned at least this lesson from their cooked intel on Iraq. The propaganda failed because there was so much on the public record, most especially including video footage of White House spokespersons making fraudulent claims, that now bedevil their credibility. If there's no public record outside of unillustrated news articles that they can later dismiss as partisan hackery, it will make plausible denialability all the easier down the line, when these new "proofs" are similiarly exposed as ginned up "alternate intelligence."

Update: Whole lot of debunking going on. Scott Horton has much more. [hat tip Lester]

Update Two: Cernig checks in with a link to the first photo released from the disk. I guess I wasn't that far off when I suggested it takes a long time to engrave serial numbers on shrapnel. It does seem somewhat odd that a bomb allegedly manufactured in Iran would use English instead of Farsi. I think it gives my plausible denialability theory a little credence as well.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Obama fights back against Howard

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting, Obama has responded to Australian Prime Minister John Howard's recent claim that al Qaeda must be rooting for Obama and the Democrats to win in '08:

US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has blasted as "empty rhetoric" Australian Prime Minister John Howard's attack on Senator Obama's plan to bring US troops home from Iraq.

The 45-year-old senator waded into a major foreign policy row just one day after formally announcing his candidacy, telling Mr Howard he should dispatch 20,000 Australians to Iraq if he wanted to back up his comments.

"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced," Mr Obama told reporters in the mid-western US state of Iowa.

"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1400, so if he is... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq.

"Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."

It is indeed. And I'm with Ed Morrissey (who once again proves he's one of most thoughtful conservatives around) on this: "Even Our Friends Should Butt Out Of Our Politics."

Whether or not Howard should be a friend is another matter. (On that, I'm sure Ed and I disagree. I do not have "tremendous admiration" for Howard; indeed, I have little to no admiration for him at all.) On this matter, he should just shut up.

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Kraziness unleashed

By Michael J.W. Stickings

More Krazy Kristol for you.

On Fox News Sunday yesterday, Bill "he's so insane I can't think of a suitable nickname" Kristol said that Obama would have supported Stephen Douglas in the 1858 Illinois Senate race, not Lincoln (whom Obama mentioned in his announcement speech on Saturday). Which is to say, he would have been on the pro-slavery side, an appeaser of the slaveowners.

What's the connection? Kristol apparently thinks that Obama is an appeaser of Islamic terrorists and hence an enabler of Islamic terrorism. Therefore, he would have been an appeaser of the slaveowners and hence an enabler of slavery.

This is not just disingenuous and unfair. It's vile. First, one may disagree with the opponents of the Iraq War, such as Obama, without calling them terrorist-enabling traitors. But, then, the proponents of the Iraq War seem to have nothing left but the use of ad hominem attacks. Defending the Iraq War on the merits is no longer a credible position. Second, Obama is, for all intents and purposes, a black man. However complex his identity, he is seen as a black man not just in the U.S. but around the world. To suggest that he would have essentially supported slavery is simply outrageous and disgusting.

But there's Bill Kristol for you. And, just to prove that I'm not making this up, because it's so krazy you might think I am, Think Progress has the video and transcript here.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Portugal votes to legalize abortion

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Although voter turnout was only about 40 percent in today's nation-wide referendum -- well under the 50 percent threshold required to be met for the outcome of the referendum to be binding -- over 59 percent of Portuguese voters expressed support for a change to the country's abortion law that would legalize abortion up to the 10th week of pregnancy.

Portugal currently has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. Only Ireland, Malta and Poland have such similarly strict legislation.

The mainly Catholic country currently allows abortions up the 12th week to save a woman's life or to preserve her mental or physical health.

In cases of rape, abortions are allowed within 16 weeks. The limit is 24 weeks if there is a risk that the child will be born with an incurable disease or deformity.

As a result many Portuguese women go to Spain for terminations or resort to illegal abortions.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who may or may not know that the unexamined life is not worth living, intends to proceed with legalization despite the low turnout: "The law will now be discussed and approved in parliament. Our interest is to fight clandestine abortion and we have to produce a law that respects the result of the referendum."

There will be intense opposition in parliament, but the Portuguese people have spoken and there is now light at the end of Portugal's tunnel of medieval darkness.

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Wisdom of the penguins

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Scene: Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands
Time: present day

-- "So let me get this straight, Alan. The IPCC says that global warming is an unequivocal fact and that humans are very likely to be the cause of it. Is that right?"

-- "That's right, Marlene. And 'very likely' means over 90 percent certainty."

-- "And yet they still have the nerve to come here and photograph us in our natural habitat?"

-- "Their arrogance knows no bounds. They believe in the conquest of nature. It's at the heart of their idea of progress. There are dissenters among them, but they've been left behind."

-- "But they're destroying our habitat."

-- "That's true, they are. They're destroying us, they're destroying themselves."

-- "What will be left of us?"

-- "I don't know. And I don't know what will be left of them, either."

-- "How sad. How horribly sad. Perhaps one day they'll be visited by tourists with cameras in whatever little habitat they have left."

-- "Perhaps, Marlene, perhaps. And now, smile for the camera."

-- "Yes, Alan, big smiles. They're pretty funny-looking, eh?"

Click... click... click...

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