Saturday, February 24, 2007

Peering into the dustbin of history

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"A Russian woman holds a picture of Josef Stalin as communist supporters stage a rally in Moscow," says the BBC.


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Great-grandson of a polygamist

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Why, it's Mitt Romney, of course. As the AP is reporting, "the Republican presidential candidate's great-grandfather had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12": "Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897. That was more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy and more than three decades after a federal law barred the practice."

Ooh. Ahh.

Look, I have my own problems with Mormonism, I'll admit. And I think that Romney, a would-be social conservative who wants to blur the line between church and state, should be required to answer for his religious beliefs -- insofar as they are relevant to a run for the presidency. Is it enough for him to say that his beliefs are private? Perhaps. But if he runs on a moralistic platform -- and it seems that he wants to -- an examination of the religious foundations of his morality, of the morality which he intends to impose on the American people, is necessary.

But I tend to agree with Ed Morrissey on this: The polygamy of a great-grandfather, however loathsome in and of itself, has nothing to do with Romney's White House bid. The AP story does indeed smack of desperation, but it is hardly a surprising effort to dig up dirt in Romney's family history. This is what presidential candidates subject themselves to, and this is what a significant part of the media do. And there will be more of it. For Romney and for all the rest.

Let Romney be held accountable for his own beliefs, however, not for the disreputable practises of his ancestors.

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Bin Laden no big deal

By Libby Spencer

The Army's highest-ranking officer says getting bin Laden is not important.

"So we get him, and then what?" asked Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. "There's a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.

I agree with that. Any psychological advantage to killing him was lost years ago and getting him "dead or alive" now would only elevate Osama to legendary martyrdom and probably inspire legions of new recruits anxious to avenge his death. But here's the quote that rankles.

Schoomaker pointed to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killings of his sons, Uday and Qusay, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence that the capture or death of al-Qaeda's leader would have little effect on threats to the United States.

Excuse me, but my attention span isn't quite so short that I don't remember all of these guys being held up by the White House at one time or another as the bogeymen that justified the continuing occupation of Iraq. We had to take them out in order to bring peace and posperity to Iraq and protect the homeland from "terrorist types." Now he's admitting they were straw men thrown up to bamboozle Americans into supporting the war?

Schoomaker merely echoes Cheney who last year remarked that taking out Osama wouldn't solve the problem of terrorism.

"He's not the only source of the problem, obviously. . . . If you killed him tomorrow, you'd still have a problem with al-Qaeda," the vice president said.

I'd agree with that as well but it does raise the question that if killing the kingpins doesn't solve the problem, how does killing the lowly henchmen under them do any more good? It's simply not possible to kill every single AQ member. Which raises the further question, how then can the White House justify escalating our presence in Iraq in order to "fight terrorists there," rather than bringing our troops home in order to bolster our defenses here?

The fact is we're not fighting terrorists in Iraq. We're acting as referees in a civil war. You don't have to be a military tactician to see the folly in deploying the bulk of our military might into that role rather than employing them in our own defense. At the least, our National Guard should be immediately brought home to do the job they signed up for -- defending the nation -- and our regular troops should be redeployed to where they would be fighting real terrorists, instead of being burdened with the impossible task of preventing the Iraqis from killing each other.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Obama takes on pure evil

By Creature

Obama on Tony Blair's Iraq bug-out plan and Cheney's reaction to it... wow:

Now if Tony Blair can understand that, then why can't George Bush and Dick Cheney understand that?" Obama asked thousands of supporters who gathered in the rain to hear him. "In fact, Dick Cheney said this is all part of the plan (and) it was a good thing that Tony Blair was withdrawing, even as the administration is preparing to put 20,000 more of our young men and women in.

"Now, keep in mind, this is the same guy that said we'd be greeted as liberators, the same guy that said that we're in the last throes. I'm sure he forecast sun today," Obama said to laughter from supporters holding campaign signs over their heads to keep dry. "When Dick Cheney says it's a good thing, you know that you've probably got some big problems."

This kid is going places.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Another case of rape in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From WaPo, more horror:

An Iraqi police official in the northwestern city of Tall Afar said Thursday that a military officer and three soldiers had admitted to raping a Sunni woman and recording the act with a cellphone camera.

The four soldiers told an investigative committee convened by the Iraqi army that they sexually assaulted the woman nearly two weeks ago, according to Gen. Najem Abdullah, a police spokesman in Tall Afar.

The soldiers' statement follows another Sunni woman's assertion this week that she had been raped in Baghdad by members of Iraq's predominantly Shiite security forces. Iraq's Kurdish president and its Sunni vice president said Thursday that a judge should investigate her case, which the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has dismissed as groundless.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in a statement that the courts were "the only legitimate place to examine such allegations" and that the government should avoid steps that would "inflame sensitivities and create mistrust."

At least Talabani is taking these "allegations" seriously. (Although, as Melissa McEwan puts it, calling at least the second case an allegation is "rather silly" -- there's a confession of guilt, after all. And the silliness applies to both Talabani and WaPo.)

What's truly appalling is that Maliki thinks that the woman in the first case is lying, that she is (in WaPo's words) "a criminal who fabricated the story to exacerbate sectarian tension and undermine a U.S. and Iraqi security plan to pacify the capital". For of course it is Maliki who is one of the key enablers of the sectarian violence in Iraq today. He may be the prime minister, but first and foremost he is a sectarian Shiite with ties to Moqtada al-Sadr and the Shiite militias. And his plan isn't to pacify Baghdad or to unify the country but to destroy the Sunni insurgency and, in a larger sense, to ensure the Shiite domination of Iraq.

And what a civilized Iraq it would be. Here's its nominal leader accusing a rape victim of making it all up. How utterly despicable.


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That was quick

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He got in, and he got out. That -- along with appearing on The Daily Show in between -- is the history of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's run for the presidency.

He removed himself from the race "after struggling against better-known, better-financed rivals," according to "a senior campaign official".

Really? Obama, Clinton, Edwards... Vilsack? Nothing against him -- he did reasonably well in Iowa and seems like a decent guy, if hardly the sort of progressive some prefer -- but he never stood a chance and his run made little sense.

Unless, of course, he was angling for the #2 spot -- that's still a possibility, of course, but, say, Obama-Vilsack sounds far less sexy than some of the alternative pairings.

Anyway, it's over. He was the first in and he's the first out.

So much for Vilsackamania.

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McCain criticizes Bush on Iraq, global warming

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He may shamelessly pander to the GOP base, the religious right, on a regular basis, and he may have spent much of the past six years cozying up to Bush, but John McCain at least occasionally has the good sense to get the hell off the ship before it sinks any further. Consider:

Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took several sharply worded shots at the Bush administration this week, distancing himself from an unpopular president and an unpopular war while wooing the right Republicans who put the president in power and once before denied McCain the White House.

McCain's latest anti-Bush tirade came during a joint appearance Wednesday in California with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

The two leaders met to discuss energy and the environment, but the subject turned to Iraq.

Though McCain is a staunch supporter of the president's plan to add troops in Iraq, the 2000 Bush foe and 2008 contender called Bush's initial pursuit of the Iraq War "a train wreck" and labeled the administration's record on global warming as "terrible."

What is clear, though, is that McCain wants to have it both ways. He wants to be the loyal party man (and base-wooing social conservative) in order to win over both the establishment and the base, but he also wants to retain his reputation as a maverick who is willing to address key issues such as the environment from the lofty perch of independence.

It won't work.

This is the McCain I prefer, the McCain who appears with Schwarzenegger and takes tough stands against Bush on Iraq and global warming, but the McCain who wants to win the White House is the McCain who takes extreme positions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and other key cultural wedge issues.

I suspect that the more genuine McCain is the one who appeared with Schwarzenegger. And perhaps that is the McCain who would occupy the White House should he make it that far.

To make it that far, though, he'll need to keep pandering to the base. And he won't make it that far if it's as obvious as it is that he's trying to have it both ways.

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Getting it wrong again

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Intentionally or not -- and, given what's come before, one suspects that it's intentional, that somewhere along the line there's intentional political manipulation, an attempt to make the case without much of a basis for it -- it seems that the U.S. may once again be getting the intelligence wrong. It's not Iraq this time, however, it's Iran:

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by US spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, diplomatic sources in Vienna said today...

At the heart of the debate are accusations -- spearheaded by the US -- that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's
investigations said.

If Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons, or even preparing to do so, it may very well shift its program to weapons development in the future.

But this isn't about the international community backing off and letting Iran build up its nuclear program freely -- supervision must continue. No, what this is about is the U.S. once again attempting to build a case for war by overstating the problem and perhaps even by manipulating the intelligence to make the problem seem much more serious and immediate than it really is. In other words, it's about the U.S. repeating what it did with Saddam's Iraq. And we know what happened and what is happening there.

And when I say the U.S., what I mean, of course, is the Bush Administration backed by various supporters of war with Iran -- many of the same who supported war with Iraq.

As we have written here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -- yes, we write about it frequently -- Bush seems to be cooking up a war with Iran (or finding a way to justify one) by stressing the imminent danger posed by Iran's nuclear program and the possibility that Iran is supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents.

After what happened with Iraq, it would take a fool to buy his bullshit this time around. Unfortunately, fools abound. Complicit fools who would like nothing more than another war, or an expansion of the present one, in the Middle East.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Prodi remains

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi submitted his resignation, but he's not leaving office. A deal has been reached:

Parties in Italy's governing coalition have agreed a deal backing Romano Prodi to continue as prime minister, his spokesman said...

Several of his coalition partners had opposed Italian troop deployments in Afghanistan and plans to expand a US airbase in Italy.

His spokesman said partners had backed Mr Prodi's 12-point political plan.

The deal came as Mr Prodi held late-night talks with leaders of his centre-left coalition partners.

"We have all agreed to the programme so that he can continue to govern," Reuters news agency quoted his spokesman, Silvio Sircana, as saying.

Reports said the 12-point programme included support for Italy's military presence in Afghanistan.

And now? Either Prodi will form a new government or an election will be held. Like I said before, Italian politics never lacks for drama.

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Prodi resigns

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Last April, I covered the Italian elections here, here, and here.

I was happy that challenger Romano Prodi of the center-left beat incumbent Silvio Berlusconi of the center-right. Berlusconi is, after all, a crook.

But the election was close, and, as the BBC is reporting, Prodi has resigned after "after losing a crucial foreign policy vote in the Senate". The issue? America's war on terror: "In the vote, several of Mr Prodi's coalition partners opposed troop deployments in Afghanistan and plans to expand a US airbase in northern Italy."

It is not clear what will happen now. "President Giorgio Napolitano is now expected to hold talks with political leaders before reaching a decision. He could accept the resignation or ask Mr Prodi to stay in power."

High drama. Politics as usual in Italy.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More on the British withdrawal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(A follow-up to this post.)

Like his nominal boss, and just as delusionally, Vice President Dick Cheney sees the British withdrawal as proof of success in Iraq: "Well, I look at it and see it is actually an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well."

I'm sure the Iraq of Cheney's wild imagination is a wonderful place where free, armed, and capitalistic Iraqis worship God, America, and Bush -- not necessarily in that order -- but the real Iraq is an altogether different nightmare. (Besides, Cheney has absolutely no credibility left. Does anyone other than Lynne, Mary, Dubya, Mary Matalin, and the delusionally partisan believe anything he has to say about anything anymore? Perhaps some fellow warmongers, but that's about it.)

And so Juan Cole's assessment seems right:

This is a rout, there should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq's South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn't protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

Blair is not leaving Basra because the British mission has been accomplished. He is leaving because he has concluded that it cannot be, and that if he tries any further it will completely sink the Labor Party, perhaps for decades to come.

That's the unpleasant truth hidden behind the happy-go-lucky spin.


For more, see The Moderate Voice, Political Animal, NewsHog, Booman Tribune, Gun Toting Liberal, and our co-blogger Libby at The Impolitic.

Andrew Sullivan gets it right, too: "Remember that, according to Cheney, the entire war has been an enormous success so far. My bet is that the phony peace prompted by the surge is designed to give Bush and Cheney a moment around May to say about all of Iraq what Cheney has just said about the south. It's fine. We won. We're redeploying. But only the Democrats want to retreat. Remember: the facts in Iraq are irrelevant to Cheney. What matters is domestic politics. And he's setting himself up for a declaration of victory relatively soon. At least one other person on earth will pretend to believe him."

Stop the presses! American wins Iraq War!

Yes, you can see it coming.

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Francois Bayrou

By Heraclitus

Here's an interesting article on Francois Bayrou, who's running for the French Presidency along with Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy. He's running as the candidate for a small, center-left Party, the Union for French Democracy (UDF), but is garnering increasing interest and support. Although his party is technically right of center, he sounds, based on this profile, like more a populist, someone who combines conservative social policies and attitudes with more concern for the poor than the major right-wing party. He's also not a life-long member of the French political elite, which is apparently helping him with voters.

But does he have any chance at all? Polls show him gaining on Royal, and suggest that he would beat either candidate if he made it through to the second round. Remember, another third party candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, advanced to the second round of voting in the last presidential election in 2002. He was aided by a profound and widespread distaste for both candidates, and for the landscape of French politics generally, which led to a low voter turnout, as well as surprisingly strong showings by all of the Trotskyist parties running in the election (yes, there was more than one), who syphoned votes away from the Socialists.

Could something like this happen again? Given that Bayrou is, unlike Le Pen, not considered a loathsome national disgrace, he should receive even more support from the legions of disaffected French voters. Should he have a chance? I obviously don't know a great deal about the ins and outs of French politics, and for that reason don't have a strong opinion, but if I were French, I would definitely consider voting for him. The way the French political class is manufactured has always turned me off, and were I French, I would probably be itching to vote for an outside. Although I like what little I've seen of Royal, her various foreign policy-related gaffes don't speak well of her ability to lead the country. Everything I've seen of Sarkozy (which, again, is actually very little compared to those living in France) makes me dislike him rather intensely. He seems like the epitome of the careerist, party machine politician, and a product of an extremely corrupt and dishonest party.

That's my poorly informed, superficial, overly emotional stance. But, regardless of my opinion, for the time being Bayrou seems to be mounting a serious challenge for the Presidency.

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The book of Daniel

By Capt. Fogg

New occasions teach new duties,
time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of truth.

-- James Russell Lowell


Amidst all the horrible things going on in the world there are still those who see the fate of societies as determined by God's blessing or God's wrath and God's wrath usually stems from people engaging in what they were designed to do, or people looking at people clothed as God clothed them and doing what they have been doing since before they were really people: that's sex, of course, and sex which is not approved of by a group of people who exist for the purpose controlling other people's sex lives and warning them of God's wrath will lead to terrible things.

I only discovered the voice crying in the wilderness called Daniel Mark Cohen through an ad he probably ran himself in the February 19 & 26 issues of The New Republic titled Unhappy Anniversary.

"If the people of the United States collectively endorse a single prayer, one that, universal in its reach, transcends the necessary differences in faith and ethnicity that otherwise divide the nation, that prayer consists of three simple words: "God bless America."

In fact, prayer divides America and that prayer no less than others, but Cohen's assertion that God will no longer bless America since the Roth v. United States decision fifty years ago that had the audacity to determine that what is and what is not pornography is relative to community standards and not the eternal, immutable standards of self-appointed guardians and Biblical blowhards like Cohen. Only a truly magnificent idiot can forget that randy pagan societies have far outlasted empires steeped in sexual repression and have prospered. God seems to bless slavery, genocide, and bloody conquest equally with its absence, and just societies have come and gone in very short order. As the poet said, our standards change and some of those standards now make Cohen uncouth.

Only a truly arrogant idiot can insist on a recieved eternal standard about what parts of what bodies we may look at and at divine retribution for infringing upon it. Cohen is both kinds of idiot and more. He's an idiot that thinks he speaks for God and that God needs a spokesman.

Cohen, in the ad and in his book, insists that pornography is prostitution and part of a "culture of prostitution" mediated by the internet, cable television pornography, and photographic cameras. "And why should God bless America," asks Cohen, "when as a consequence, she insists on the free unregulated distribution via the internet of the most vile sexual images, so that hourly, such pictures reach and indelibly corrupt the otherwise innocent eyes and chaste minds of the country's millions of unsupervised children?"

Interesting that Cohen thinks we should be supervised as adults but that children, with their "chaste minds" need not be. I don't know whether I'm more offended by his contempt for freedom, his psychotic ideas about sex, or his insistence that children have chaste minds. I am of course angered beyond bounds by this voice from the sewer, this vox clamatis cloaco, from whose troglodytic viewpoint the world is covered in shit. I'm angry that his pathetic little God won't bless a sexually free America but isn't irritated by an America that kills children, letting them live in poverty and disease, by a world that looks the other way and feels righteous when they are hacked to bits in Africa and are forced to become killers of other children.

Cohen is too stupid, or too twisted and perverted, to dwell on the total lack of historical correlation between sexual openness and the fate of nations. God doesn't really give a damn from all evidence and from all evidence European countries that do not try to suppress pornography, that allow prostitution, and don't interfere with sex between consenting adults have less rape and murder than the lands of God-fearing, freedom-hating sexual deviates like Mark would force us to emulate.

God bless America? No, says Cohen. God damn Cohen and all miserable bastards like him? Yes, says Fogg.

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British withdrawal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's MSNBC reporting on an important development in the Iraq War:

Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce Wednesday a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, with 1,500 to return home in several weeks, British media reported.

Why is this significant?

The announcement comes as President Bush implements an increase of 21,000 more troops for Iraq, but while some of the other coalition partners are pulling out: The Italians and Slovaks have left, and the Danes and the South Koreans want to start withdrawing.

Apparently, Bush views this British withdrawal as "a sign of success," and Blair may say that himself in his defence. He is not about to concede anything resembling defeat or failure -- despite or perhaps because of intense opposition to the war at home. But whereas Bush seems utterly delusional, Blair at least seems to be aware of what has gone wrong, and why. Bush still talks of victory, still hopes for success, still sends troops into harm's way in the middle of a civil war. Perhaps Blair finally found the good sense to do what he should have done a long time ago: sever his ties with his "ally" in the White House. Look what Iraq has done to Bush and the Republicans. Look what it's done to Blair personally. This initial withdrawal is coming too late, but it suggests he's had enough.

The BBC article on the British withdrawal is here.

For more on what this could mean for the U.S., see Glenn Greenwald: "Blair's reversal was likely motivated in large part by various domestic political pressures. Still, the fact that President Bush's most steadfast ally has reversed himself in such a public and humiliating way, and announced a clear-cut withdrawal from Iraq on a set timetable, should embolden frightened American Congressional war opponents to move beyond inconsequential and limited non-binding resolutions and begin thinking seriously about how to compel an end to this endlessly destructive occupation."

Democrats, are you paying attention?

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Conservative cannibalism

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Gotta love it. Republicans eating their own, led by the insufferable Hugh Hewitt and the "Victory Caucus," his lame answer to

Not that they'll abandon their shameless assault on the Democrats: "The GOP political strategy is to shift the focus away from an unpopular war and unpopular president to the Republican claim that Democrats would abandon the troops."

Right, sure. Just as Bush equates support for the Iraq War with opposition to Islamic terrorism, these Hewittistic Republicans (and there are many of them -- this has long been a Republican refrain) equate opposition to the Iraq War (both generally and with respect to Bush's surge) with opposition to the troops.

It's spin, of course. Do you really think even the most pacific Democrats would abandon the troops? The most ardently anti-war support bringing the troops home, not leaving them to fend for themselves in the chaos that is today's Iraq.

Partisans misrepresent each other all the time. That's politics. What's true of Republicans is also true of Democrats.

But what differentiates Republican misrepresentation from Democratic misrepresentation is its nastiness. If Democrats were to say that Republicans don't give a damn about the poor, which they rarely do with such venom, Republicans respond with outrage and cries of foul play. But if Republicans say that Democrats don't give a damn about the troops, and they do with venom, it's just politics. And Democrats, fearful that the Republican slur will stick, fall all over themselves to show that they do in fact support the troops, thereby remaining on the defensive while Republicans continue their assault.

This "Democrats-will-abandon-the-troops" meme will guide Republicans through the next two years at least. With a war many of them continue to support enthusiastically continuing to go horribly wrong, and proving to be a lost cause, all they have left is to slur Democrats and eat their own.

It's called GOP strategy.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spankin' Dubya

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Best. Parade float. Ever? It's up there, that's for sure.

And, yes, that's the Statue of Liberty spanking President George W. Bush.

The parade is the Rose Monday carnival procession in Mainz, Germany.

Photo from The Globe and Mail.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XL

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Today was a horrible day in Iraq -- perhaps no more horrible than other days, but the violence had a twist to it:

A cloud of deadly toxic gas engulfed an Iraqi town Tuesday, killing six people and leaving dozens of others choking on fumes after a tanker carrying chlorine exploded outside a restaurant.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry official said the blast in the town of Taji, 12 miles (20 km) north of Baghdad, was caused by a bomb on board the tanker.

There were contrasting figures on the casualty toll. Baghdad security plan spokesman Gen. Qassim Atta told state-run al-Iraqiya TV that five people died in the blast and 148 were poisoned by the gas.

At least 20 people were killed throughout the country -- at least: it's likely that many violent deaths went unreported. Here's a rundown:

-- "A bomber wearing a suicide vest detonated his explosives in a funeral tent on eastern Baghdad's Palestine Street, killing five and wounding 15 others. The attack took place before 5 p.m."

-- "In southwestern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded outside a fuel station in the Sadiya district, killing six people and wounding 11 more, police said."

-- "In southern Baghdad, police said, a car bomb exploded near a market in the Rashid district, leaving five dead and seven wounded."

-- "In Tikrit, a would-be suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest was shot and killed by authorities outside an Iraqi army recruitment center, police said. Tikrit is about 80 miles north of the Iraqi capital in Salaheddin province."


Iraqi police reported finding 20 bodies across Baghdad on Monday.

Among these, an attack by three suicide car bombers near a U.S.-Iraqi outpost killed two American soldiers and eight Iraqi police officers, Iraqi officials told CNN.

The U.S. military confirmed the American deaths and said 17 U.S. troops were wounded in the "coordinated attack" north of Baghdad, but it did not reveal the strike's exact location.

I must say, CNN does a pretty good job reporting the various incidents of violence that plague Iraq each and every day.

As I've said before, it's important that these incidents are not only reported and given prominence by the major news outlets but that we who are consumers of the news do not neglect to inform ourselves of the violence that plagues Iraq. If we avoid the coverage of the violence or allow ourselves to become numb to it or otherwise neglect to attend to the human cost of the war, the lives lost on all sides, including the innocent civilian victims who are directly targeted or caught in the crossfire, then we have already lost what allegedly differentiates "us" from "them".

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Not all Georges are created equal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

My friend Steve Benen calls this "unusually annoying". I, being rather more profane in my blogging, call it fucking ridiculous:

President Bush honored the 275th birthday of the nation's first president on Monday, likening George Washington's long struggle that gave birth to a nation to the war on global terrorism.

"Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life," said Bush, standing in front of Washington's home and above a mostly frozen Potomac River.

"And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone."

Yes, that's right, George Bush likened himself to George Washington:

On the field of battle, Washington's forces were facing a mighty empire, and the odds against them were overwhelming. The ragged Continental Army lost more battles than it won, suffered waves of desertions, and stood on the brink of disaster many times. Yet George Washington's calm hand and determination kept the cause of independence and the principles of our Declaration alive.

In the end, General Washington understood that the Revolutionary War was a test of wills, and his will was unbreakable.

The implication that Bush is another Washington deserves little comment. Bush was explicitly likening the wars to one another, but his characterization of Washington seems to mirror his characterization of himself as the man of will and determination who is fighting the good fight for freedom. In other words, Washington waged the Revolutionary War just as Bush now wages the so-called Global War on Terror.

And yet he gets it all backwards. Is the America of today similar to the America of Washington's time? Hardly. It is true that "Washington's forces were facing a mighty empire" and that "the odds against them were overwhelming," but, in the Global War on Terror, America is the "mighty empire" and -- dare I say it? -- al Qaeda and its allies are the "ragged" forces with the odds against them. Of course, al Qaeda's goal is different than Washington's goal -- trust me, I'm not comparing Washington and Osama in the most important respect -- but the terrorists are the revolutionaries now, not the Americans.

Furthermore, I find the notion that the Britain of the Revolutionary era was akin to al Qaeda and America's other terrorist enemies of today rather offensive. Where does Bush think "the cause of freedom" came from? Has he ever heard of the Magna Carta? Or of the Glorious Revolution? Has he ever read Locke? The Founders may have sought independence, but they did not break away from the political theories and traditions that bore them.

Finally, to quote Steve: "[T]o suggest that somehow George Washington would approve of the war in Iraq, and that there’s some kind of parallel between the current war and the Revolutionary War, is just silly, even by Bush’s low standards."

Yes, Bush keeps sinking to new lows. He is no George Washington. And his war is not that war. And he is as delusional as ever.

Question: Which one's the pretend president? (Photo from the BBC.)

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An aside

By Heraclitus

What's the deal with that Wendy's commercial using "Blister in the Sun?" Maybe I'm being naive or unfair, but I have trouble imaging the late Dave Thomas listening to The Violent Femmes.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

A short ride on the Straight Talk Express

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'll admit it. Happily. I've been pretty hard on John McCain, criticizing him harshly for his views on, inter alia, Iraq, abortion, same-sex marriage, and so-called intelligent design.

Well, the old McCain -- the far more admirable one -- emerged today in South Carolina. Sort of. At a retirement community near Hilton Head, he had this to say about the war (and one of the prime architects thereof) of which he has been one of the more enthusiastic boosters: "We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you -- of Donald Rumsfeld, of this war. The price is very, very heavy and I regret it enormously." Indeed: "I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."

McCain is to be commended for pulling a 180 on Rumsfeld -- although I suspect his past words of support were largely insincere. And he is to be commended, too, for acknowledging openly that the Iraq War has been so badly mismanaged.

And yet, a few points for perspective:

-- McCain remains one of the war's leading proponents. He supports Bush's surge. To the extent that he disagrees with Bush, it's only because he thinks the surge isn't significant enough. While other Republican critics like Chuck Hagel have argued for an end to the war, McCain wants more war.

-- McCain criticized Rumsfeld, a wildly popular figure on the right but a widely despised figure otherwise, not Bush. He is still a bit of a maverick, but his outward loyalty to the president, a sign of partisanship, continues to trump his rebelliousness.

-- McCain made his remarks at a retirement community. It wasn't exactly a major policy speech at, say, West Point.

-- McCain continues to pander to the far right, the GOP's evangelical base, on other issues. He isn't about to jeopardize that delicate relationship.

All in all, the Straight Talk Express isn't what it used to be.

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Look who's coming to dinner!

By Capt. Fogg

I know it’s fashionable to assert that there is no scientific basis for “race,” and indeed you can define race in a way that makes it true, but the idea is a political one and designed to stifle discussions of population genetics in the same way that discussions and scientific investigations of human gender differences has been stifled in the interest of promoting gender equality and attempting to avoid discrimination. It’s the politics of “you can’t handle the truth” and it’s the argument that says, don’t believe your eyes, believe what we tell you. Sometimes the only way this can be discussed is through humor, as when Stephen Colbert declares “I don’t see race” when of course we can’t avoid it.

We see family resemblance because families tend to have more similar inherited features than they share with the total world population. Likewise, populations that have been isolated for a great deal of time share an extended family resemblance. Recognizing this has nothing to do with racism, which is about postulating that these relatively minor things constitute some sort of hierarchy in the abilities, worth, and human rights of various populations.

Of course, the criteria by which some people assign an individual to one race or another are subjective and not very scientific; there is a great deal of genetic variation amongst people we commonly and erroneously lump into one group, and that’s because we can only see genetic variations that determine external morphology. There is a great deal below the surface, and that gets to the point of all this. It’s possible that there are two unrecognized and invisible races of mankind and the only way we can tell them apart is to see whether they can taste things like a bitter synthetic compound called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC. Some can detect it and some can’t, and to those that do, like me, it tastes absolutely awful.

This has been known for 75 years but, recently, the gene responsible for making me hate Brussels sprouts was isolated. An article in Science Daily postulates that this gene once served to keep our hirsute ancestors from eating poisonous fruits and vegetables: like Brussels sprouts, spinach, and all that other foul-smelling, evil-tasting green stuff my mother tried in vain to get me to eat. Like many lethal plants, these dreadful items are rich in bitter alkaloids, and many alkaloids are deadly. It’s a truly sad thing that I cannot hold these facts up to my mother as vindication: to prove that it was a token of my ability and not of my obstinacy that ruined so many dinners.

Now I don’t want to insinuate that we of the taster race are superior to those who lack the ability, but then we do have an ability that they lack – who knows what else they lack? And look at what those people eat! Would you really want them moving in next door and cooking their nauseating foods or want your daughter to bring one of them home for dinner?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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The establishmentarian extremism of a would-be GOP frontrunner

By Michael J.W. Stickings

John McCain may be running a different sort of campaign looking ahead to 2008 than he did back in the lead-up to the 2000 election, with establishmentarian gravitas replacing anti-establishmentarian rebelliousness, not least because of Iraq, but his efforts to present himself as a partisan worthy of the nomination as opposed to a maverick running against the party line, and particularly his efforts to ingratiate himself with the social conservative base that dominates the primaries and that he will need to have on his side if he hopes to win the nomination, seem to have turned him into an extremist, or at least into a panderer to extremists.

He came out against same-sex marriage before last November's midterms, and then against abortion thereafter, and now he has repeated his opposition to Roe v. Wade and his desire to have it overturned: "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned," he said yesterday in South Carolina, a key early primary state. And just to show he's serious, he pandered to the base on judicial nominations, too, saying he would, as president, appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench," that is, parsing the fundamentalist lingo, activist, ideological conservative judges who do not respect established law and who wish to mold America according to their own fundamentalist, and largely un-American, vision.

Such is the McCain of 2007.

He's learned his lessons. Republicans don't like mavericks. And Republican primary voters don't like their candidates anywhere near the "middle". He's intent on winning, it seems, and to that end he'll do and say whatever it takes. At least in campaign speech, his shift to the extreme right on the issues that matter most to the base is quite apparent.

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Hillary Clinton's lesser babka

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In a belated attempt to look like she's as serious about stopping the Iraq War as her fellow Democratic presidential candidates and as other leading Democrats like Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton "has called for a 90-day deadline to start pulling American troops from Iraq".

Here's how she put it in a video on her website: "Now it's time to say the redeployment should start in 90 days or the Congress will revoke authorization for this war."

Rather, Congress will try to revoke authorization. Senate Republicans still have the filibuster and Bush and his allies will fight any attempt to curtail his warmongering.

Better late than never for Clinton to beef up her bona fides, but, if I may reference one of the greatest Seinfeld episodes of all, she's like the guest who brings a chocolate babka to the party after everyone else has already arrived with chocolate babka in hand. Clinton may hope her anti-war effort is the cinnamon babka to everyone else's chocolate babka, but I'm pretty sure she's going in with a lesser babka here.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XXXIX

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the BBC:

More than 60 people have been killed and 131 injured in three car bombs in Shia districts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, police sources have said.

Twin blasts hit a market in the New Baghdad area, killing 60 people. Two more people died in another blast in Sadr City.

The attacks are the deadliest since a joint US-Iraqi security offensive was launched on Wednesday.

A reminder not to get too excited about the perceived successes of the surge. Iraq is what it is, not what the U.S. wants it to be, and no amount of "surge" will change that.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mozambique floods

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Flood waters from the rising Zambezi River, caused by several weeks of heavy rain, have forced over 60,000 Mozambicans to evacuate their homes in recent days:

Rescue officials say another 100,000 people are still at risk.


Heavy rainfall across neighbouring Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi has poured into the reservoir of Mozambique's main hydro-electric dam, the Cahora Bassa, filling it to capacity.

Water has already been released, but officials say more flood gates must be opened to prevent the dam wall from bursting.

The situation is worst in the country's central region where the Zambezi River and its tributaries -- the Shire and Revubue -- have become swollen with surging waters.

Officials said 46,000 homes have been destroyed. Roads and bridges have been washed away, thousands of hectares of crops have been flooded and there are reports at least 29 people have been killed.

The flooding seems to be worse than in 2001, although about 700 people were killed then. The country was better prepared this time, but there is still an enormous humanitarian crisis.

Here are a few photos of the devastation. The second is a shot of the town of Mutarara, barely above water.

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Thailand bombings

By Michael J.W. Stickings

At least 28 bombs went off in Muslim-predominant southern Thailand today, near the Malaysian border. The AP reports:

The bombings targeted hotels, karaoke bars, power grids and commercial sites in the country's southernmost provinces, the only parts of predominantly Buddhist Thailand with Muslim majorities. Two public schools were torched.

Three people were killed, more than 50 wounded.

Although Thai authorities are likely right to blame separatist insurgents for the blasts, and although there may be efforts to link these attacks with the larger American-led war on terror, and although I do not necessarily sympathize with the suspected goal of the insurgency (the establishment of an independent fundamentalist state), some context is required. As the BBC notes, "Violence has surged in Thailand's south since the military seized power in a bloodless coup in September". These provinces "were once independent but the region was annexed by Thailand 100 years ago". And as the AP notes (link above), this insurgency, which began back in 2004, has been "fueled by accusations of decades of misrule by the central government".

None of which is to excuse the attacks or the insurgency itself. However, it is important to keep in mind, post-9/11, that not all insurgencies are alike and that not all Muslim terrorism is the same.

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