Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vladimir the Terrible

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A few weeks ago, Russian police broke up a pro-democracy rally in St. Petersburg. The police brutally beat protesters from opposition groups and arrested many of them.

Such is the state of democracy in Russia today.

And it's getting worse.

The Guardian is reporting that Russia's highest court has banned the country's liberal Republican Party, "one of very few left in Russia that criticises President Vladimir Putin". The court held that the party "had violated electoral law by having too few members": "The Kremlin argues that its new electoral law -- which says that all political parties must have 50,000 members and be represented in half of Russia's provinces -- is meant to streamline Russia's untidy political scene," but "critics say the legislation is designed to kill off smaller parties that oppose the Kremlin."

Ed Morrissey predicts what will happen next: "With no opposition left in the Duma,... [Putin] will ask for, and receive, the removal of restrictions that keep him from running for another term of office. Putin will make himself president-for-life and continue eliminating the regional power structures that had acted as a check on federal power... Russian democracy is disappearing before our eyes. It will not be long now before Putin has recreated the Soviet government that he served for so long, within smaller borders. After a season of freedom, political winter once again descends on Russia, and the spring may be long in coming."

I'm not sure if Putin will go so far as to "make himself president-for-life," but otherwise it is certainly true that he is reinstating unabashed authoritarianism in Russia.

Look into his heart. There is tyranny there.


For more, here's The Guardian's "backstory":

Russia's tiny opposition is represented in the current Duma by four or five MPs. Pro-Kremlin parties predominate among the 447 deputies. The small opposition Republican party, banned yesterday, was formed by defectors from the Soviet Communist party. It emerged in 1990 on the wave of liberalism encouraged by then-Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The Republican party has one MP, Vladimir Ryzhkov; its other attempts to win seats have repeatedly failed. But it has played a solid role in the liberal opposition. The liberal Yabloko party also has two MPs. Two other anti-Putin MPs sit as independents. In theory, the opposition includes Russia's Communist party and the far-right Liberal Democratic party. In reality, they rarely if ever voice opposition to the Kremlin, observers point out.

In other words, there is in effect no democracy in Russia. It's all a miserable farce.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Greetings from Florida

By Mustang Bobby

Hi there. I'm Mustang Bobby, and I am the newest member of The Reaction team. I am honored to have been invited to join this fine collection of writers and thinkers. I look forward to making my contributions, and I hope you enjoy them.

You might recognize my name from my own blog, Bark Bark Woof Woof. That's been going since November of 2003, so I've got a few posts under my belt. I mainly write about politics, gay issues, theatre, culture, and just about anything else that comes to my attention, and try to do it with a touch of humor. I am a Marxist -- Groucho Marx, that is -- and I also subscribe to the Mel Brooks theory that the best way to destroy your enemy is to laugh at them. I try.

Oh, yes -- I do live in Florida; the Miami area, to be exact. So you'll see some posts about life here. However, I promise not to be too cruel for those of you up in the True North Strong and Free; I'll make sure I don't rub it in too much when it's 74 F (23 C) in the middle of January. On the other hand, you Canadians get to vacation in Cuba without incurring the wrath of your government and 1,800 old gaffers on Calle Ocho here in Little Havana. Fair trade, don't you think?


Bookmark and Share

Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XLVIII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The surge -- and its illusion of success -- continues, but:

Suicide bombers struck across Iraq on Saturday in a sharp upsurge in violence that killed more than 60 people, many of them policemen.

In the worst attack, a man driving a truck packed with explosives blew it up outside a police station in Baghdad's volatile southern district of Dora, killing 20. The blast sent a large column of smoke into the air and rattled windows kilometres away in the center of the city.

Read the WaPo/Reuters article for the details. They aren't pretty.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, March 23, 2007

Incurable tyrants and kings

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is Roger Waters performing "The Fletcher Memorial Home" at Madison Square Garden last year. (It's the best version I could find at YouTube.) It's on the Pink Floyd album The Final Cut, and as the title of this post would suggest it's about the final days of the world's "incurable tyrants and kings," "wasters of life and limb" -- see if you can recognize the two figures who appear at 2:20. (Hints: They're American, they're often in the news, and I've written about both of them this evening in two separate posts.) I included the lyrics in a post on Pinochet -- see here.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Pants on fire

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Karl Rove is a proven liar. Which is why it makes no sense whatsoever to allow him to testify on purgegate in private and not under oath. Tony Snow says Bush aides, including Rove, would tell "the whole truth". That, too, is a lie. Or just crazy talk. In any event, it's business as usual at the White House.

Read Joe Conason.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

What it means when Iran captures 15 British sailors in the Persian Gulf

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Diplomatic crisis. Military crisis.

As you may have heard already -- it's a rather significant story -- Iran caputured 15 Royal Navy and Royal Marine sailors in the Persian Gulf today after they boarded a dhow they suspected of being used for smuggling.

The BBC: "The Royal Navy said the group was on a routine patrol in Iraqi waters and were understood to be unharmed. But Iranian state television quoted the Iran foreign ministry as saying they had illegally entered Iranian waters." The sailors were apparently not harmed. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has demanded their immediate release. For more, see The Guardian.

It may all be a misunderstanding. Iran claims the sailors were in Iranian territorial water; the Royal Navy claims they were in Iraqi territorial water.

But what does it all mean? What is the larger context?

For that I turn to Steve Clemons:

But this is more evidence that America and Iran are poking each other through proxies. Iran is using these British military personnel to send signals to the U.S. -- and the U.S. has taken similar actions against Iran inside Iraq and probably along the Iran-Iraq border.

These kinds of incidents become the stuff of escalation and miscalculation...

One hopes that Bush has the sense to drop the swagger and realizes that we are increasingly tilting towards accidental, if not purposeful, war -- but perhaps that is the President's intention.

It doesn't always take much to start a war (think WWI) and sometimes the momentum towards war (in the form of "escalation and miscalculation" (also WWI, Vietnam, etc.) is stronger than the willingness to work to prevent it. And sometimes, of course, war is actually desired by those in a position to wage it (the current Iraq War).

Whether or not Bush actually desires war with Iran, or even limited military strikes against strategic targets inside Iran, there is clearly escalation and miscalculation here. Bush and others who support him and/or have an interest in heightening the tension between the U.S. and Iran have been trying to make the case -- without much evidence and perhaps with manipulated intelligence -- that Iran has been supplying arms to Iraqi Shiite militias and that Iran's (military-oriented) nuclear program is far more developed than it really is. And, as Steve mentions, there is that presidential "swagger," that rhetorical warmongering that has driven an even deeper wedge between the U.S. and Iran.

Of course, Bush is not solely to blame. His reckless rhetoric has been eclipsed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad's relentless anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric. Ahmadinejad's rhetoric may be for domestic consumption and he may be tapping into strong currents of Iranian nationalism to sustain his position, but it doesn't help that Bush has been playing right along. The momentum is clear.

The 15 sailors will likely be released. It is hardly in Iran's interest to hold them captive for much longer. The point -- presumably that Iran will defend itself vigorously against U.S. and British aggression (even if this wasn't an act of aggression), that is, that it won't back down -- has been made.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail -- not just to resolve this mini-crisis but to head off whatever military crises lie ahead. If they don't, and if the escalation and miscalculation continue, war may prove to be inevitable.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday afternoon poem

By Heraclitus

Galway Kinnell

The Porcupine


on herbs, swollen on crabapples,
puffed up on bast and phloem, ballooned
on willow flowers, poplar catkins, first
leafs of aspen and larch,
the porcupine
drags and bounces his last meal through ice,
mud, roses and goldenrod, into the stubbly high fields.


In character
he resembles us in seven ways:
he puts his mark on outhouses,
he alchemizes by moonlight,
he shits on the run,
he uses his tail for climbing,
he chuckles softly to himself when scared,
he's overcrowded if there's more than one of him per five acres,
his eyes have their own inner redness.


Digger of
goings across floors, of hesitations
at thresholds, of
handprints of dread
at doorpost or window jamb, he would
gouge the world
empty of us, hack and crater
until it is nothing, if that
could rid it of all our sweat and pathos.

Adorer of ax
handles aflow with grain, of arms
of Morris chairs, of hand
crafted objects
steeped in the juice of fingertips,
of surfaces wetted down
with fist grease and elbow oil,
of clothespins that have
grabbed our body rags by underarm and crotch...

Unimpressed -- bored --
by the whirl of the starts, by these
he's astonished, ultra-
Rilkean angel!

for whom the true
portion of the sweetness of earth
is one of those bottom-heavy, glittering, saccadic
of salt water that splash down
the haunted ravines of a human face.


A farmer shot a porcupine three times
as it dozed on a tree limb. On
the way down it tore open its belly
on a broken
branch, hooked its gut,
and went on falling. On the ground
it sprang to its feet
and paying out gut heaved
and spartled through a hundred feet of goldenrod
the abrupt emptiness.


The Avesta
puts porcupine killers
into hell for nine generations, sentencing them
to gnaw out
each other's hearts for the
salts of desire.

I roll
this way and that in the great bed, under
the quilt
that mimics this country of broken farms and woods,
the fatty sheath of the man
melting off,
the self-stabbing coil
of bristles reversing, blossoming outward --
a red-eyed, hard-toothed, arrow-stuck urchin
tossing up mattress feathers,
pricking the
woman beside me until she cries.


In my time I have
crouched, quills erected,
Sebastian of the
scared heart, and been
beat dead with a locust club
on the bare snout.
And fallen from high places
I have fled, have
over fields of goldenrod,
terrified, seeking home,
and among flowers
I have come to myself empty, the rope
strung out behind me
in the fall sun
suddenly glorified with all my blood.


And tonight I think I prowl broken
skulled or vacant as a
sucked egg in the wintry meadow, softly chuckling, blank
template of myself, dragging
a starved belly through the lichflowered acres,
where burdock looses its arks of seed
and thistle holds up its lost blooms
and rosebushes in the wind scrape their dead limbs
for the forced-fire
of roses.


Bookmark and Share

Headlines As Victories

By Creature

CNN: House passes spending bill with Iraq deadline

If headlines are victories, then today's passing of the war spending bill in the House is a victory. Though I'm not sure what else the bill is good for. My own ambivalence about today's vote disturbs me. I do think it's important to support Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha in this fight against the White House, but my heart is not in it. I'm not a big fan of compromise when lives are at stake, but anything is better than stay-the-course. Anything. So I congratulate Speaker Pelosi for pulling this off, and hopefully it's a stepping stone to further action and a real withdrawal.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cancer recurrence won't stop Edwards' campaign

By Libby Spencer

Needless to say, I join the nation in sending my thoughts and prayers to Elizabeth Edwards, who just discovered a new cancer has manifested in her bones and possibly her lungs. I don't like thinking about cancer. It's taken a few people I know away already and I have three cherished friends who are right now fighting this treatable, yet maddeningly incurable disease.

I find it remarkable they can talk about it so routinely, discussing chemo and other treatment regimes in the same tone as they might discuss dinner plans, and I find it inspiring that they can carry on with their lives as if that death sentence isn't hanging over every waking moment. Their courage sometimes moves me to tears in my private moments and my heart breaks for all of us, because I fear they will be taken from us who love them, too soon.

I'm an extraordinarily empathetic person, but I can hardly comprehend how much more difficult it must be, to be compelled to share such a diagnosis with an entire world of strangers. I'm in awe of John and Elizabeth Edwards in this difficult moment and hope their grace and strength will assist all victims of terminal illness to find the same limitless fortitude as they, and my dear friends, possess.

If you missed the presser, Shakes has the video.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Bookmark and Share

Congress calls Bush's bluff on purge scandal

By Libby Spencer

I love it. The House approved subpoenas and compelling of documents in the attorney purge scandal. The Republicans unsurprisingly made a lot of noise about not wanting to issue them until actionable wrongdoing had been uncovered. Please. What little that has come out so far suggests gross wrongdoing and Sen. Leahy says the documents have been radically redacted. I'd guess Justice didn't give them nearly half of what they were entitled to see.

Frankly, I'm a little disappointed to hear Rep. Conyers suggesting otherwise. Meanwhile, the New York Times has the definitive quote of the day.

Responding defiantly on Tuesday, Mr. Bush said he would resist any effort to put his top aides under “the klieg lights” in “show trials” on Capitol Hill, and he reiterated his support for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose backing among Republicans on Capitol Hill ebbed further.

Hard to believe that the man who is ultimately responsible for holding thousands of prisoners incommunicado, and torturing them for "confessions," can deliver a line about show trials with a straight face. And you would think a guy whose family fortune was built on trading with Nazis would want to avoid the mention of klieg lights.

In any event, you know of course that Gonzales is history. The leading indicator being George has given Al the old "heckva job" support. But this time his intransigence may backfire. He doesn't have his rubberstamp majority on tap to sweep it under the rug. If he forces Congress's hand, he may find there's no ace left up his sleeve to avoid even more uncomfortable investigations.

Here's hoping the Democrats live up to their mandate and keep those "klieg lights" relentlessly trained on the White House. It's about time this administration's shadow government was illuminated.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Three paintings by Munch

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a midweek art post, three spring-related paintings by Edvard Munch to celebrate the coming of spring:

  1. Spring (1889) -- naturalism
  2. Spring Day on Karl Johan (1891) -- impressionism
  3. Evening on Karl Johan (1892) -- expressionism
These three works, amidst many others of the time, show Munch in transition from the naturalism and impressionism of his early years to the expressionism that would come to define him. The sadness and quiet suffering of Spring points ahead to Munch's exploration of the inner demons of humanity that are already on display in Evening on Karl Johan (and the tall, lanky figure walking the other way, in opposition to the crowd, to the mass of humanity, is Munch himself). The Scream was completed the following year, in 1893, many of his other famous works around the same time. Spring Day on Karl Johan seems almost out of place -- sunny, pretty, even optimistic -- but like his other impressionist works it reminds us of Munch's astonishing breadth as an artist, one who refused to be bound by convention and style.

For more on Munch's work, see The Artchive and Artcyclopedia.


Bookmark and Share

Slamming Gore

By Michael J.W. Stickings

WaPo: "Weeks after he wowed moviegoers and Hollywood elites with his Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, Al Gore returned to Congress today and urged lawmakers to take drastic measures to address what he called 'a true planetary emergency.'"

Much of the WaPo article is dedicated to Gore's views -- the correct views, of course, the truth about the climate crisis, but the first two other people mentioned are Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), two of the more extremist deniers of the climate crisis. Why is Barton's erroneous claim that "[g]lobal warming science is uneven and evolving" -- there are various disagreements, as there are in any scientific field, but not on the main points, where there is astonishing consensus around the world -- quoted in the third paragraph? Why is Inhofe's insane claim that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people" quoted in the fifth?

But at least the Post isn't the Times, which, as Eric Boehlert shows in great detail at Media Matters, is continuing its baseless "War on Gore" even now. This is an important piece. Make sure to read it in full.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Headline of the Day

By Creature

From E! News: Britney's Rehab Mission Accomplished

I guess this means another four-year-plus battle with whatever substances Britney was having issues with, coupled with a deep denial that anything is actually wrong, leading to further interventions, which she will petulantly rebuff in order to keep the facade of winning her battle with dependency alive. Mission Accomplished, indeed.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Update on purgegate

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As expected, President Bush has turned to executive privilege in denying the request of Democrats that key Bush aides, including Rove and Miers, testify under oath with respect to the firing of the U.S. attorneys. For more on this, see Glenn Greenwald.

Bush will not allow his aides to testify before Congress, but he will allow this: "I'll allow relevant committee members on a bipartisan basis to interview key members of my staff to ascertain relevant facts." This is entirely unsatisfactory.

Greenwald: "Why... would Congress possibly trust Bush officials to provide more explanations in an off-the-record, no-transcript setting where there are no legal consequences from failing to tell the truth? Once a party demonstrates a propensity to issue false explanations and refuses to tell the truth voluntarily, no rational person would trust that party to make voluntary disclosures."

Bush admitted that the "announcement" and "subsequent explanation" of the firings were "confusing" and "incomplete," but what he offers now is not truth in public but spin in private. His "willingness to work with the Congress" only goes so far, and not nearly far enough. I am sympathetic to the notion of executive privilege -- and I say this both as a political theorist and as a policy advisor with the government -- but what we are talking about here is not private counsel but the overt partisanization of the justice system by the executive branch.

Greenwald quotes U.S. v. Nixon (1974): "The President's need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the court. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises." There are no "military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets" to protect here. There is only the public interest to serve.

And the public interest in not served by the overt partisanization of the justice system.


Creature makes a good point: "Isn't it interesting that when the Right rallies around provisions that take away liberties, warrantless wiretapping for example, they scream: if you are doing nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. Well, Mr. President, if you and your aides have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. People with nothing to hide should have nothing to fear."

This is not an argument for warrantless wiretapping -- if you're not guilty, don't worry, so let's do it -- but yet another indication of the hypocrisy of the right. Except that Bush is refusing to allow his aides to testify before Congress -- even if subpoenaed, it would seem. That is entirely different than spying on Americans without probable cause.


For more, see the many links at Memeorandum -- including The Carpetbagger Report, Balkinization, NewsHog, Liberal Oasis, My Left Wing, MyDD, Pam's House Blend, and Libby at The Impolitic.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

The message

By Heraclitus

In honor of the recent announcement (or was it the induction?) of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which, yes, is an indescribably lame institution), I present the video of "The Message" for your enjoyment and edification.


Bookmark and Share

Patriotic cowards

Guest post by Edward Copeland

While the Senate moved yesterday to strip the attorney general of the Patriot Act provision that allows the AG to permanently replace vacant U.S. attorney positions without Senate confirmation, no one seems to be raising a ruckus that lawmakers of both parties approved that "obscure measure" twice, in 2001 and again in May 2006. Only Republican Sen. Ted "the Internet is a series of tubes" Stevens admits that he knew the provision was there in 2001 and claims to have had misgivings then. So either they once again didn't read the details of the legislation they were voting on or they knew this clause existed. They used this "obscure" provision claim to express outrage over financial rules relating to foreign financial institutions as well. This doesn't even include the revelations about FBI misuse of national security letters under the act.

Under a little-noticed provision in the USA Patriot Act, the Treasury Department has ordered severe restrictions on foreign banks or countries for reasons beyond the stated purpose of the law and without producing evidence.

Section 311 of the 2001 Patriot Act was drafted to halt terrorist financing and money laundering, but the Bush administration has used it against an alleged source of terrorist financing -- a bank in Syria -- only once. The Treasury has invoked it more often to punish alleged human-rights abuses or offshore banking havens.

Although Congress has yet to examine the Treasury's use of Section 311, the provision is likely to add to the controversy over other sweeping powers the executive branch of government acquired under the Patriot Act.

According to a recent audit, the FBI used the Patriot Act illegally to obtain personal information about U.S. citizens. And the administration has agreed to abandon a provision that it used to replace eight U.S. attorneys for what Democrats charge were partisan political reasons.

The House reauthorized the act in March 2006 on a vote of 280-138, two more than needed under House rules requiring two-thirds majority for passage of expedited legislation. The Senate passed it 89-10 with 1 not voting. So, I think it's worth remembering what Democrats were cowards and voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act with these provisions in March 2006. (I'm including Censorin' Joe, who still pretended to be a Democrat then). Note that every Democratic senator seeking the 2008 nomination backed the reauthorization.

[Edward has the list of Democratic yeas here. The courageous Democratic (and independent) nays were Akaka, Bingaman, Byrd, Feingold, Harkin, Jeffords, Leahy, Levin, Murray, and Wyden. -- MJWS]

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yes, it's Stephen Colbert Day -- in Oshawa, Ontario (a small city east of Toronto).

CityNews has the story here.

Good times.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Crazy German animal rights activists

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is Knut.

He's a three-month old polar bear cub at a zoo in Berlin. His mother rejected him and he's been raised by hand by a zookeeper. (See Der Spiegel for more, including a photo gallery.)

He is extraordinarily popular. And yet some want him dead. Who?

Various animal rights activists who think that "[r]aising him by hand is not appropriate to the species but rather a blatant violation of animal welfare laws," to quote one of them. The director of another German zoo, in Aachen, even argued that it isn't "appropriate for the species that the little polar bear is being raised on a bottle".

Huh? What?

I know, that was my reaction, too. Apparently this is rather common practice: killing baby zoo animals who for whatever reason cannot fend for themselves.

But come on. How insane is that?

Surely the humane treatment of one member of a species doesn't enganger the entire species. And surely there is some other solution to the "problem" than animal infanticide. Surely it should be in the realm of "animal welfare laws" for humans to take care of animals who have been rejected by their mothers or who otherwise find themselves alone. Surely an animal like Knut is precisely what the animal rights movement needs to attract widepread public attention to the welfare of animals.

And given all the animal abuse out there in the world, all the real abuse that should concern animal rights activists, why focus on poor Knut?

Let him live. Celebrate him. And do your part in safeguarding the welfare of animals.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

"Hi, can we buy your vote?"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You can't really blame them. They're politicians. (That's Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the left and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on the right -- below.)

So when they table a budget, which
they just did, you have every reason to wonder if they're more concerned with the public good or with their own political fortunes. No -- you don't. It's their political fortunes, stupid. Harper's Conservatives have the most seats in the House of Commons, but they're currently governing with minority status. What they want now is to prepare for the next election, one that may soon come, an election that could put them over the top into majority status. They they'll be able to do some serious conservative governing.

The opposition parties, however, are not playing along -- not all of them, at least. The Liberals and the New Democrats oppose the budget, but the separatist Bloc Québécois will support it. It would have taken the opposition of all three parties together to vote down the budget and to force an election. Now the budget will pass.

And yet the Conservatives will still manage to continue to lay the foundation for the next election, whenever it may come. The budget has hardly been
welcomed by all, not least the Liberals ("I've never seen a government... do so little with so much," said Liberal leader Stéphane Dion), but its two main beneficiaries are the two constituencies that hold the key to the Conservatives and their desire to form a majority government: Quebec and the middle class. The Conservatives did unusually well in Quebec in the January 2006 election, and they did better than they had done in recent elections in suburban Ontario, but they'll need to do better still in those constituencies if they hope to win a majority -- there just isn't much else for them to win out west or out east.

Politicians try to buy votes all the time. And with this "family-friendly" budget the Conservatives are obviously trying to buy off Quebec and the middle class (whatever the other
winners and losers) -- $2.3 billion a year more for Quebec, a $2,000 child-tax credit for families, benefits for seniors, etc. (No such luck if you're single or Aboriginal or a student or from Saskatchewan or poor or a fiscal conservative -- yes, the right-wing Canadian Taxpayer Federation called it a "Liberal spending budget," hardly a compliment.)

Anyway, that's the 2007 Canadian budget. All we need now is the 2007 election. Then we'll see if the Conservatives succeeded in buying enough votes to govern with a majority since 1993. And, if they did, we'll then see what the Conservatives are really all about.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Help immigration raid orphans

By Heraclitus

I've been out of town for the past little bit, and am generally extremely busy just now and don't really have time for a proper post on this, but please read this post by Nezua and check out The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) page, with lots of information. In a nutshell, the situation is this: a recent raid on a defense contractor in Massachusetts resulted in the arrest of around 350 immigrants, some of whom were certainly not in the system at all but many of whom appear to have filed immigration papers. Many of those arrested were women, and their families, including many children, have been left alone. The post by Nez and the link above explain how you can help. Whatever you think of our immigration laws, there are children who are in need of things like diapers and food and, oh yeah, a trip to see their mothers (though I wouldn't be surprised if we get at least one comment denouncing efforts to help these children, especially if Michael posts a link to this post at TMV).

According to this op-ed in The Boston Globe, the raid was carried out by homeland security. You can see their point: foreign terrorists are so 2004, and domestic terrorists are really nothing anyone ever wanted to think about. But the GOP needs to energize its "base" for 2008, and raging homophobia may no longer be sufficient. So, time to use your anti-terrorism tax dollars to harass immigrants. I don't mean to suggest that there's something monstrously hypocritical in our treatment of illegal immigrants or anything. I mean, just because these people worked for a defense contractor, let's not make some federal case out of that. Or out of the fact that the executives who arranged for all of this and created hundreds of false documents were out on bail without spending a night in jail. But if this sort of thing sticks in your craw, you can always call/write your Congressfolks and tell them you want significant changes to our immigration laws. Or just start a rumor that Tom Tancredo is like totally teh gay.

Update: Sheelzebub at Pandagon has written a great post on some of these issues that you should read.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

The war at four: Happy talk at the White House, unhappy reality in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So this -- March 19-20 -- is the four-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. And how far we've come. I was a supporter of the war, if a reluctant one, but it didn't take long for me to turn against it. I welcomed the overthrow of Saddam's despicable regime, but the gross mismanagement of the war by the warmongers became apparent rather quickly. And I don't have much to add today. We address the war day in and day out here at The Reaction, and our views are clear. The war has been a disaster.

But what did Bush have to say?

He spoke at the White House -- all happy talk about how "the world is rid of Saddam Hussein" and about how "our most important mission is helping the Iraqis secure their capital," that is, about how "Iraq's government is carrying out an aggressive plan to secure Baghdad" and about how "we're continuing to train the Iraqi security forces so that they ultimately take full responsibility for the security of their own people". He said that "the Baghdad security plan is still in its early stages, and success will take months, not days or weeks," and he admitted that "there will be bad days ahead as the security plan unfolds". It was a better speech than many of his lame efforts to defend the indefensible, and yet the optimism is not reasonably cautious but, as usual, unreasonably delusional: "Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won. It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through."

What does that even mean? -- courage? resolve? Four years into the war, the only concrete progress seems to be the entirely false successes, however dubious, of the surge in Baghdad. What of the rest of the country? What of Baghdad post-surge? A torrent of sectarianism has been unleashed by this war? Does Bush seriously think that a security effort in Baghdad will solve that problem?

Perhaps he does. What is certain is that he intends for the Iraq War to go on indefinitely -- there may be many anniversaries yet to come. He speaks of months, but months soon become years. It will likely take the next president -- if that president is a Democrat, less likely if he (because not she) is a Republican -- to undo what Bush has done.

And so, on the four-year anniversary of the start of his war, Bush asks for patience, for time, plays the fear card, arguing that withdrawing from Iraq would prove far worse than staying, as if that argument can be proven, despite all the evidence against it, and requests, nay, demands another $100 billion in emergency funding "without strings and without delay".

But what has Bush done to deserve the trust of the American people, or the trust of any people? What has he done to deserve patience, time, and so much more money for a war of his own choosing, devising, and manipulating that has turned into such a disaster?

Nothing. And yet the war goes on. And there isn't a damn thing we can do to stop it until -- until the wrongs of 2000 and 2004 are rectified, at least in part, a small part, by a Democratic victory in 2008.

Then, and perhaps only then, will the madness end.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 19, 2007

United Socialism of Chavez

By Michael J.W. Stickings

And the dismantling of even the flimsy facade of democracy in Venezuela continues:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has told his political allies to join him in a single socialist party, or leave his government.

Mr Chavez wants to create the United Socialist Party as an umbrella group for dozens of groups that back him.

Three of the parties -- Fatherland for All, the Communist Party and Podemos -- have so far resisted the idea.

The three parties have seats in the pro-Chavez assembly and Podemos has some governorships.

"If you want to go, leave. In reality you are not indispensable," Mr Chavez said during his television programme Hello, President.

He added that he considered the three parties to be "almost in opposition".

"I don't want allies like that."

The only funny thing here is the name of his stupid TV show. Chavez has already granted himself the power to enact so-called "revolutionary laws" by decree (i.e., naked tyranny), and now he's trying to smother not just the opposition but his own allies. He evidently wants no opposition and no dissent whatsoever, even from those who are inclined to support him. It's a move to one-party rule, the rule of one man, himself.

Hello, President? Goodbye, liberty and democracy.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Creature for AG?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sorry, my friend, you're too competent, too ethical, and, yes, too darn qualified.

And there's no need for your nose ever to be that close to the anus of pro-Bush politics. Much better to keep fighting the good fight out here with the rest of us.


Bookmark and Share

Time to get rid of Gonzo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Nancy Pelosi is the latest prominent Democrat to call for Gonzales's removal: "I think what is unfolding looks pretty bad for the administration as well as Alberto Gonzales... I don't think Alberto Gonzales fundamentally understood the difference between being the president's lawyer and the attorney general of the United States and the premier defender of the Constitution."

That's right. Gonzales is, and always has been, a loyal partisan hack, Bush's legal advisor, enabler, and defender both in Austin and in Washington. In this case, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, either he didn't know what was going on, in which case he is at best a figurehead Attorney General blissfully unaware of what even his immediate subordinates are doing, or he did know what was going on, in which case he approved of, and perhaps signed off on, the overt partisanization of the justice system, judging U.S. attorneys on the basis of fidelity to Bush and the GOP (and perhaps whether they were targeting the White House and its allies). Either way, he is unfit to be attorney general -- and this on top of many other reasons why he's unfit to hold the position.

But it may not matter what Pelosi and the Democrats have to say. According to The Politico's Mike Allen, "Republican officials operating at the behest of the White House have begun seeking a possible successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose support among GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has collapsed." In other words, Gonzales is already on the way out. It's only a matter of time.

Possible replacements: Homeland Security Secretary (and Katrina bungler) Michael Chertoff, Bush homeland security advisor (and Bush insider) Frances Townsend, former Attorney General (and renditioner of Maher Arar to Syria) Larry Thompson, and former Solicitor General (and Bush lawyer in Bush v. Gore) Ted Olson. It may be that anyone would be better than Gonzales. Or it may not matter at all. Unless Bush were to nominate someone who is truly independent -- and that seems unlikely -- the new attorney general will still be in office to do Bush's bidding.

But what also concerns me here is that if Gonzales, as expected (given what a loyalist he is), resigns and takes the fall, there may be little effort outside of the TPM-led blogosphere to look beyond Gonzales to reveal who in the White House (i.e., Karl Rove) was actually calling the shots. Because it wasn't Gonzales. This was political. And, for Bush, politics begins and ends with those in his inner circle. That's where the shot-callers are to be found.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Figuring out the Finnish election

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, there really isn't much to figure out. In Sunday's national election, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's centrist Centre Party won 51 of 200 seats in the Finnish Parliament, the Eduskunta, one more than the center-right National Coalition Party and six more than the center-left Social Democratic Party. (Finland uses a List-Proportional Representation electoral system; seats in the Eduskunta are allocated to parties according to their respective shares of the popular vote.)

Overall, the National Coalition Party picked up ten more seats than they did in the last election in 2003. The Centre Party lost four, the Social Democrats eight.

Vanhanen has governed in coalition with the Social Democratic Party and the Swedish People's Party (representing one of the country's key minority groups) since 2004, but, as the BBC is reporting, the "strong showing" of the National Coalition Party, or the "Conservatives," "could force [him] to realign his coalition".

Does this mean that Finland has shifted to the right? Not necessarily. The parties that finished fourth and fifth, with 17 and 15 seats respectively, are the leftist Left Alliance and the center-left Green League. The Swedish People's Party finished sixth with nine seats. The two right-wing parties, the Christian Democrats and the True Finns, finished seventh and eighth with seven and five seats, respectively. (The remaining seat is for Åland, a remote province in the Baltic Sea.) Moreover, in a pre-election poll, far more Finns wanted a Centre Party coalition with the Social Democratic Party than with the National Coalition Party.

Of course, it's all a matter of semantics. A centrist party in Europe, and particularly in Scandinavia, would generally be a center-left (even, on key issues like health care, a leftist) party in the U.S. By Finnish standards, however, the Centre Party leans to the right on some issues, such as decentralization and free trade, though it is by no means a conservative party. (It is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, a loose union of European liberal parties.) Which is to say, a coalition with a rejuvenated National Coalition Party wouldn't be out of the question, even if the balance in Finnish politics still seems to be on the center-left.

(Speaking of which, to give some indication of the state of Finnish politics, the key issues in this election were health care, care for the elderly, support for students, tax cuts, and the welfare system. Which is to say, Finland is a healthy social democracy with a strong economy. There may be a reduction of income tax, but otherwise politics in Finland concerns mainly the management of social services.)

Regardless -- as is often the case in jurisdictions with electoral systems that tend to produce coalition governments, and this is widely the case in Europe -- it will be interesting to see which way Vanhanen goes.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Make them testify

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Why is the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys so important? Because it concerns the overt politicization of the justice system. The U.S. attorneys were fired not because they weren't performing well on the job but because they weren't adequately pro-Bush. This is more than politicization; it is partisanization. And it is simply not acceptable.

Whereas a Republican Congress would kowtow to the White House on this matter, as it did on almost everything else during Bush's first six years in office, the Democratic Congress is at least making an effort to uncover the truth. From the Times:

The Democratic senator leading the inquiry into the dismissal of federal prosecutors insisted today that Karl Rove and other top aides to President Bush must testify publicly and under oath, setting up a confrontation between Congress and the White House, which has said it is unlikely to agree to such a demand.

Some Republicans have suggested that Mr. Rove, as well as Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel,
and William Kelley, the deputy White House counsel, testify privately, if only to tamp down the political uproar.

But Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemed to rule out such a move today, saying that his committee would vote Thursday to issue subpoenas in the inquiry, which centers on whether the White House allowed politics to interfere with law enforcement.

"I do not believe in this, 'we'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything,' and they don't," Mr. Leahy said on the ABC News program "This Week," adding: "I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this."

Testimony under oath is hardly too much to ask given the gravity of what has happened. Needless to say, though, Bush will never let it get that far. There is the not-so-small matter of executive privilege, not to mention the White House's obsession with secrecy. Gonzales would be pushed out and made to the take the fall long before Bush ever let Rove et al. testify under oath.

Leahy should issue subpoenas and by any and all means try to compel Bush's top aides to testify. Just don't expect anything significant to come of his efforts.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Smearing Plame

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The right will stop at nothing to smear whomever it deems a threat to its grip on power. The main targets of the right-wing smear machine are often leading political figures, such as Obama, but the machine also targets those who speak the truth to right-wing power, who expose the lies and deceptions of the right, of the Republican Party, of Bush -- such as Valerie Plame.

In her testimony before the House Government and Oversight Committee, Plame stated that she was in fact, and contrary to partisan right-wing claims, covert at the time her identity was made public by conservative pundit Robert Novak. And if she was in fact covert when outed, then we come back to the rather significant matter of who knew what and when, of whether there was a concerted and coordinated plot to out Plame and where such a plot originated.

And this is why the right-wing smear machine is attacking Plame's claims that she was covert and that she did not recommend that her husband, Joseph Wilson, be sent to Niger. On Fox News today, Brit Hume even went so far as to allege that Plame lied under oath. Having already argued that she was not covert, he is now arguing that she did send her husband to Niger. It's just more of the same from the right.

You can find the video of Hume's smear at Think Progress.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Precedent McCain

By Capt. Fogg

If, as Emerson said, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then John McCain qualifies as a finalist in the micromind competition:

"You know, I'm sure I've taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was,"

said he to a reporter on his tour bus somewhere in Iowa. Caught off guard with questions about whether he thought our government should spend any money on providing condoms and instructions for their use in Africa in order to fight the plague of AIDS, he seemed far more concerned with not contradicting the absolutely ridiculous statements he's made in the past than with providing an answer to the question. Mumbling and stumbling about abstinence, he evaded further questions about sex education and prophylaxis in his own country by saying he supports the president and

"people like Dr. Coburn. I'm not very wise on it."

I don't know whether to forgive him the grammatical solecism, but to support Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, head of Bush's AIDS Advisory Council and his immoral and idiotic program of substituting religious polemics on the virtues of not having sex for medical advice on the prevention of the AIDS epidemic, is absolutely unforgivable. Anyone who puts his religion's dogma above the preservation of human life has violated not only his Hippocratic oath but has set himself outside the human race.

Do words like liar, scoundrel, enemy of decency, and even evil have any meaning at all any more in the context of the Bush administration? Does John McCain's campaign for the presidency have any discernible theme other than that his lack of concern for what evil he supports, as long as he can convince enough evil men to support him? The question is not whether to vote for this cringing dog of the demented religious right; the question is how long it takes for America to realize that the real enemy combatants are not in Guantanamo but in Washington, in Kansas, Oklahoma, and cruising through northern Kansas in a bus. How long before everyone recognizes that John McCain doesn't care how many mothers and how many children die as long as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and the rest of the pantheon of vermin are happy with him?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Another federal election in Canada?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

According to Prime Minister Harper, and as reported in the Globe, Canadians could be heading to the polls "at any time". This is even "a campaign training weekend for about 2,000 [Conservative] party nominees, MPs and volunteers". And it might very well be a good time for Harper and his minority government to seek that long-desired majority:

There has been much speculation of late about a spring vote, with some suggesting it could be triggered by Monday's budget.

With the Tories making some headway in public opinion polls and the Liberals finding their way under a new leader, some pundits wonder if Mr. Harper will try for a coveted majority by engineering his own defeat – introducing some sort of budget measure that the opposition can't live with.

Harper would no doubt blame the opposition parties, led by the Liberals, for subjecting Canadians to another election -- the last one, the one that brought the Conservatives to power, was held just last January -- but there is little doubt, it seems, that Harper and the Conservatives want an election far more than the Liberals do. If Harper thinks he can secure a majority in a spring election, he'll go for it, whereas the Liberals, I suspect, would prefer to have a bit more time for Stéphane Dion to continue to grow into his position as party leader -- that process, in my view, has been slow and agonizing, and I say that as a Dion supporter.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share