Saturday, May 12, 2007

Closing the door on open government

By Libby Spencer

Funny, I could have sworn the Democrats were aware that they were put back into power because the people were fed up with the back room dealing and selling us out to the corporations. Maybe they forgot already. How else to explain this secret free trade deal that I understand was basically written by corporate lobbyists?

This is a deal that Bush wants and corporate interests love. The DLC and the Democratic leadership endorse it but half the Democrats are reported to oppose it. I'd suggest the "leadership" and the rest of the old guard machine politicians heed their warnings. If we wanted more policy making like this, we could have just cloned Dick Cheney.

Mid-sized American manufacturers and labor organizations already oppose the deal based on what little information they've been able to get from the press releases. The details are still a secret. A secret. What possible justification is there for keeping the business of the people, from the people? This is of major import. We want to be in on the whole process. The negotiations on this deal should be conducted openly and with opportunity for public debate.

Any politician that endorses the methodology used to reach this devil's pact on the future of worker's rights should stop shopping around for a buyer for their DC digs. After the next election, they won't need them. You might want to remind them of that and send an easy one step email to your Representative and Senators here at Public Citizen.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Why the United Nations is a farce

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm not anti-U.N., and I do think it serves a useful purpose in bringing the world's sovereign states together under one roof and in supporting important relief and outreach efforts around the world, but one needn't be on the American right, where neocons and other America-first nationalists mock its very existence, to find much of what it does to be a farce.

With membership based solely on sovereignty, the U.N. is an institution whose members include any number of undemocratic and illiberal regimes, granting them not just a prominent voice on the international stage but also legitimacy in the international community, as well as the opportunity to influence how the U.N. operates. Consider, for example, that the current membership of the U.N. Human Rights Council includes China, Cuba, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

And now there's this:

Zimbabwe has been elected to head the UN's commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) despite strong objections from Western diplomats.

They had said Zimbabwe was unsuitable because of its human rights record and economic problems. It is suffering food shortages and rampant inflation.

Zimbabwe was nominated by other African nations and supported by various developing nations, which apparently "respected the decision of the African group to nominate the country for the post in the first place" and "have shown they cannot be pushed around". "Zimbabwe's Environment Minister Francis Nheme will now become chairman of the CSD," but "Nheme is the subject of European Union travel ban because he is a member of President Robert Mugabe's government".

And there's the root of the problem. Zimbabwe's president is Robert Mugabe, a tyrant. He's been in power since 1980. In fact, he's the only president independent Zimbabwe has ever had. And his idea of democratic governance includes beating opponents and dissenters to a pulp, arresting them, and then blaming them for being beaten to a pulp. He is one of Africa's, and one of the world's, most despicable leaders.

And now his country -- his autocratic regime -- will head the U.N.'s CSD? Truly, a farce.

For more on the horrible situation in Zimbabwe, see here.


Update: CNN has more.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Bluster and bombast

By Michael J.W. Stickings

More hot air:

Vice President Cheney, visiting a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, vowed today to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and "dominating" the region, and he pledged that U.S. forces would keep open the sea lanes that carry about 20 percent of the world's oil trade.

In a speech to sailors and Marines aboard the USS John C. Stennis about 20 miles off Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Cheney also said the United States must "persevere" in Iraq and declared that Americans "will not support a policy of retreat."

Such fearmongering. Such warmongering.

Let's look at a few points here:

1) How exactly does Cheney intend on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and dominating the Middle East? One good guess: military action -- which would likely only worsen the situation by strengthening the extremists in Tehran; stoking Iranian nationalism, which is already strong; pushing Iran to accelerate its nuclear program; compelling Iran to seek even closer alliances with regimes hostile to the U.S.' alienating the U.S. even more not only in the Middle East but around the world and in the international community; encouraging Iranian-sponsored and other terrorism against U.S. interests in response; cutting off possible diplomacy and negotiation thereafter; and -- and this is key -- endangering the existing democratic movement in Iran.

As Reza Aslan said on The Daily Show last night, there is a viable and extensive democratic movement in Iran -- "the civil and democratic institutions at the grassroots level..." And as Jon Stewart pointed out, nationalism is incredibly strong in Iran. The bluster and the bombast from Cheney and others only "[pushes] them over to the other side," the side of the extremists. These democratic institutions need to be nurtured, but "leaving Iran alone" could "create the kind of society we want them to create". The bluster and the bombast also prompts the extremists to "clamp down on these democratic institutions," all "in the name of national security". In other words, more Cheney, more Ahmadinejad. They need each other, they feed off each other, and they both make everything much, much worse.

Instead of threatening Iran, and instead of "leaving Iran alone" entirely, it would be wise to talk directly to Tehran, to tell the Iranians they're not about to face some massive shock-and-awe campaign from the skies, to show them that the U.S. is willing to compromise. This would be the best way to slow down and possibly control Iran's nuclear program, as well as to build up the democratic movement that, in the long run, will moderate Iranian politics, lessen the threat Iran poses to the region, and bring Iran and the U.S. closer together.

2) Oil, oil, oil. Whether he meant to or not, Cheney revealed what so much of this is really all about.

3) What does it mean to "persevere" in Iraq? The war has been going on for over four years. The British are pulling out. There is no "coalition of the willing" anymore. The "surge" is providing only the illusion of success, and limited success at that. The Iraqi government is on the brink of collapsing. Sectarian violence continues all around the country, surge or no surge. And so on and so on. Plus, the American people have turned on the war. So have many in Cheney's own party. And many more are set to turn over the next few months. Republicans hardly want to run on Iraq in '08. So what does "persevere" mean? To keep on with a status quo that is getting nowhere? So it would seem.

4) When Cheney talks of "retreat," he is, obviously, smearing the Democrats, which is what Republicans do so well. He might as well have used the word "surrender". But of course the Democrats aren't proposing retreat or surrender, nor are Americans being asked to support either. Withdrawal -- phased withdrawal, with some U.S. forces remaining in Iraq and close by -- is not retreat. The policy being proposed -- and, admittedly, there are multiple variations of it -- emerges from recognition that the war is no longer winnable through military action, or at least through the sort of military action that has failed to meet its objectives since the fall of Baghdad (because those objectives, notably a peaceful and democratic Iraq, could never be met through such military action). Put another way, the policy is recognition that Iraq would be better off not being occupied by the U.S.

But Cheney -- like Bush, like the warmongers generally -- thinks in terms of violence, the infliction of pain. This is why he wants the Iraq War to continue as is, why he seems to support military action (or, for now, the threat thereof) against Iran, why he has approved of the use of torture, and why his politics involves beating his opponents.

Cheney and his kind have inflicted enormous damage on America and on the world. They will continue to do so until they are finally driven from power altogether.

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Remembering Syd

By Michael J.W. Stickings

If only Pink Floyd would play together again. Again. The Live8 reunion a couple of years ago was amazing -- pigs flew, as I put it -- but it would be something special if Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason went on tour one last time. I saw the post-Waters Floyd on their Pulse tour, then both Gilmour (with Wright) and Waters last year, separately. Incredible shows, all -- but one can only imagine what a Floyd tour would be like now.

Still, Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason did come together, in a way, for a tribute concert to Syd Barrett:

Pink Floyd's stars have performed at a concert in honour of their ex-bandmate Syd Barrett, who died last year -- but stopped short of a full reunion.

Roger Waters and David Gilmour, who famously fell out more than 25 years ago, appeared separately at the tribute gig at London's Barbican Centre.

Gilmour was joined by original drummer Nick Mason and keyboard player Rick Wright, while Waters played solo.

Alas. The Gilmour-led Floyd played "Arnold Layne," the band's first hit, while Waters played his own "Flickering Flame". And Waters didn't join in for the finale, an ensemble performance of "Bike," from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the only performer not to do so.

What does that mean? More tension? Or perhaps a reluctance not to overshadow the tribute to Syd with another reunion? It's too bad, though. There would be no better tribute to Syd than for the band to make peace and perform together again.

Regardless, it sounds like it was a fantastic show. A fitting tribute to the Madcap himself.

(For my thoughts on Syd upon his death, see here.)

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Coulter laughs at the law again

By Capt. Fogg

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

Aleister Crowley

Well, at least if you're a member of the club. How many felons have actually received that phone call at the last minute; the governor deciding to pardon them or commute their sentence? Probably not many, but then your average felon isn't a member of the race of lizards posing as humans who have taken over the government of the United States.

I have to admit I've been waiting and hoping for the axe to fall on Ann Coulter. Registering to vote using a false address is after all, punishable with jail time and in the state of Florida, so concerned with keeping even ex-felons out of the voting booth, you'd think the letter of the law would be paid attention to. You'd think that a case of voter fraud, with the evidence right there in the ledger books, with the testimony of the poll worker who went on record saying he caught her committing a felony, would at least merit an investigation, but no. After half a year of inquiries being stonewalled by Coulter's lawyer, the allegations have gone away, not because of lack of evidence, but because, as I read in The Palm Beach Post of an unsolicited phone call from the FBI. Supervisory Special Agent Jim Fitzgerald, of the FBI Academy's Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Va. seems simply to have told the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections to drop it. They did.

Her excuse, at least the one provided for her, was that she feared using her real address because she was afraid of a stalker. The alleged stalker, arch-conservative Christian, rabid anti-Coulter blogger Dan Borchers of was interviewed by the FBI nine years ago and was told, he says, to be careful with Coulter since "She hollers stalker at anybody who opposes her." Seems oddly hilarious for someone who not only has made a career of libellous vilification of public figures, but has called for the public to harm them.

Perhaps the strategy now, with the GOP backed into a corner and exposed as the pack of lying, thieving, power mad megalomaniacs they are, is simply to so overload us with outrageous acts that we're simply unable to oppose them, at least until the clock runs out on the Bush team. All we really can do for now is what the truly religious do: suffer quietly and hope for a day of reckoning.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Blair triumphant

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He is unpopular at home, popular with the American right, and set to leave office with his apparent legacy, the Iraq War, still an unmitigated disaster. And yet.

I admire him.

He transformed the Labour Party from old-left obsolescence to center-left dominance, a New Labour for a dynamic new Britain. He invested in health care and education. He sought to reduce poverty both at home and abroad. He worked for real solutions for Africa's ongoing plight. He brought Britain closer to Europe even as he reached out to America. He was a leader in the fight against global warming. He was the liberal interventionist who brought moral purpose to foreign policy, providing leadership in times of struggle on Kosovo and Darfur. He was, I once thought, the world's leading statesman.

Here's E.J. Dionne: "What Blair built in his pre-Iraq days was not the Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land imagined by the poet William Blake but something more workaday: generally competent government, steady growth built on reasonably orthodox economic policies, fiscal responsibility, some expansion of public services, a rather serious war on poverty."

Yes, Iraq. Along with devolution -- the establishment of regional parliaments in Scotland and Wales -- it is Iraq that could form the core of his legacy. And yet.

He didn't support the Iraq War for the reasons Bush and the neoconservatives did. He didn't support it out of a naive belief in the benevolent hegemony of America. He didn't support it because of oil. He didn't support it because he had some messianic vision for the Middle East. No, he supported it because removing a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, a tyrant who had gassed his own people, who was still committing heinous atrocities against his own people, who would never accept the terms of U.N. resolutions, who continued to pose a threat to the region.

This is why I supported the war. Not because of George Bush but because of Tony Blair.

But that was Blair's downfall. He trusted Bush. He allowed himself to be taken in by Bush. Whatever he may have thought in private, he acted as if he believed that Bush knew what he was doing, that he could work with Bush, that he could check and balance Bush. And then everything went wrong.

Remember, though, that the British have controlled the relatively peaceful southern region of Iraq. (Basra, as violent as it may be, is not Baghdad.) Remember, too, that the British are already withdrawing their troops from Iraq. Blair is getting out, Bush is refusing to get out and pushing for more.

What else was Blair to do? His moral purpose intact, he has admitted fault. He knows that the war to which he attached himself, his legacy, his party, and his country has been a disaster.

Still, I cannot forgive him entirely for Iraq, just as I cannot forgive him for devolution, which has weakened the United Kingdom as a sovereign state governed with justice and equity from Westminster.

And yet, with Dionne, I come to this: "We may be done with Blair, but his influence will long outlive his tenure -- and the war he embraced." His party, now firmly Blairite, will carry on under his rival, Gordon Brown. The opposition Conservative Party, under the Blairesque David Cameron, is Blairism of the center-right. The Third Way is broad and vague, but it is a way that the vast majority of Britons support.

Whatever happens from here will happen in Blair's shadow. And that, I would argue, is good for Britain, good for Europe, and good for the world.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Karl Rove and the rotten core

By Michael J.W. Stickings

One of the big stories today comes from the indefatigable Murray Waas of National Journal, who is reporting on -- guess what? -- a White House cover-up:

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

Ed Morrissey thinks this is "old news dressed up for new headlines" and follows the White House in directing the blame at Gonzales, but old news is still news, particularly with a running story like this one, and, what's more, the cover-up is new news. Morrissey also notes that Rove may not have "acted illegally," as "these are political appointments, and the White House has the authority to dismiss appointees, even when it's a stupid thing to do," but that's only part of the problem. Even if what Rove did wasn't illegal, it was more than stupid, it was, in this one particular case in particular, odious and noxious, and an assault on American democracy, insofar as it involved both the partisanization of the justice system and the personalization of that partisanization. It wasn't enough that a U.S. attorney be unjustly fired and replaced with a partisan friend, the friend had to be a Rove protégé.

How corrupt, how despicable.

And that's before the cover-up, which is the new news. So it wasn't enough that a U.S. attorney be unjustly fired and replaced with a Rove protégé, the White House had to lie about Rove's role in the whole sordid affair.

But this is all Gonzales's fault, say the apologists? Come now. Please. Gonzales is a hack, a dupe. He deserves to go, but that wouldn't be closure. Not for a story like this, a story like an onion, a story with many layers that need to be peeled away before we find the truly rotten core.

Like all of Waas's pieces, this one deserves to read in full. Follow this story closely. There's much more to it than just a few questionable firings and Gonzales's utter incompetence.

And now let me end this post by letting Melissa McEwan speak for me: "I literally cannot bring myself to heave out one more post elucidating how profoundly corrupt and deserving of permanent exile from government is every last bloody member of the Bush administration."

Ah, but more such posts there will be. The corruption must be exposed.

Heave away, heave away.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #45: Classical music in bed, with ice cream, in a concert hall

By Michael J.W. Stickings

From the Globe, a sure sign that civilization is sliding into decadence: "Relaxing on double beds and eating ice cream, guests enjoy Russian violinist Anastasia Chebotareva's classic melodies during a Tokyo performance entitled Dolce (Sweet) Heavenly Concert."

Alright, I'm exaggerating. But still. Come on.

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Fellatio can seriously damage your health

By Michael J.W. Stickings


The sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer also sharply increases the risk of certain types of throat cancer among people infected through oral sex, according to a study being published today.

The study, involving 100 people with throat cancer and 200 without it, found that those infected with the human papillomavirus were 32 times as likely to develop one form of oral cancer than those free of the virus. Although previous research had indicated HPV caused oral cancer, the new study is the first to definitively establish the link, researchers said.

"It makes it absolutely clear that oral HPV infection is a risk factor," said Maura L. Gillison, an assistant professor of oncology and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, who led the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings could help explain why rates of oral cancer have been increasing in recent years, particularly among younger people and those who are not smokers or heavy drinkers, which had long been the primary at-risk groups, experts said.

So, well, be careful out there. Seriously. Life sucks sometimes.

(And remember, masturbation isn't just sex with someone you love, as Woody Allen put it, it's sex with someone whose sexual and medical history you know, or are much more likely to know, depending on how well you know yourself.)

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The Blair announcement

By Michael J.W. Stickings

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will "make an announcement" today regarding his future plans (i.e., resignation and departure date), the BBC is reporting (as are many others). He "will tell Cabinet colleagues of his intentions [this] morning, before making his plans public in a speech in his Sedgefield constituency".

Which means that the Gordon Brown era will soon be upon us.

With no Cabinet-level challenge for the leadership, and only a backbench challenge if any at all, his "coronation" is all but assured.


Update: Well, it's done.

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Siege mentality

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So you think the "surge" is the cure-all? Or, at least, you think it's working? Well...

A sharp increase in mortar attacks on the Green Zone -- the one-time oasis of security in Iraq's turbulent capital -- has prompted the U.S. Embassy to issue a strict new order telling all employees to wear flak vests and helmets while in unprotected buildings or whenever they are outside.

The order, obtained by The Associated Press, has created a siege mentality among U.S. staff inside the Green Zone following a recent suicide attack on parliament. It has also led to new fears about long-term safety in the place where the U.S. government is building a massive and expensive new embassy.

Over four years later, this is what the war's come to. And this is why I've said over and over again that any "successes" related to the "surge" are either fleeting or illusory. The fact that there's now a "siege mentality" in the Green Zone tells you what you need to know about the state of security in Iraq today.

(Of course, there's nothing really new here. From what I can tell, there's been something of a siege mentality there for a long, long time.)


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Game time in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Updated below.)

Dick Cheney paid a surprise visit to Baghdad -- or, rather, the Green Zone -- today, talking tough to the Iraqis, urging "Iraq's feuding political factions to pull together urgently on such divisive issues as oil revenues, political militias, the future division of power and the rehabilitation of thousands of former Saddam Hussein-era officials". And I'm sure they will, because Cheney told them to, and because it's now "game time," according to "a senior Bush administration official".

But wasn't it "game time" several years ago? Why is it only "game time" now? Perhaps because the strategy is to carry on with the "surge" until September, talk tough to the Iraqis in the meantime, blame them for not meeting benchmarks for otherwise for not doing what they should be doing, that is, obeying Cheney's orders, get the hell out of Iraq, and blame both Democrats and the Iraqis for the war's failures and for the chaos that is likely to follow withdrawal. U.S. military commanders in Iraq are saying that the "surge" may continue into next year, but those military expectations may be eclipsed by political considerations before that, particularly as Republicans eye the '08 elections. If there is no clear improvement in Iraq before the end of this year, and if Bush insists on carrying on with the war as is, there could well be a dramatic rift between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill.


Meanwhile, as AlterNet is reporting: "On Tuesday, without note in the U.S. media, more than half of the members of Iraq's parliament rejected the continuing occupation of their country. 144 lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, according to Nassar Al-Rubaie, a spokesman for the Al Sadr movement, the nationalist Shia group that sponsored the petition."

It should be noted that Prime Minister Maliki is close to the Sadrists.


Cheney may have been talking tough in the Green Zone, but, elsewhere, real life was taking place:

A suicide truck bomber devastated the security headquarters of one of Iraq's most peaceful cities Wednesday, killing at least 15 people, wounding more than 100 and showing that no corner of Iraq is immune from violence.

It was the first major attack in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish self-governing region, in more than three years. The victims were among 72 people killed or found dead nationwide.

But I'm sure Cheney will be able to heal the wounds of this devastated country.


Update: NBC (via Think Progress, which has the video of Tim Russert's report) is reporting that 11 GOP members of Congress "pleaded yesterday with President Bush and his senior aides to change course in Iraq". It "may have been a defining pivotal moment," according to Russert.

Update 2 (the following day): Various other media outlets are picking up on this story. See, for example, The Washington Post and ABC News. From the latter: "This wasn't what Karl Rove's permanent majority was supposed to look like. Even as Vice President Cheney was being dispatched to Baghdad to prod the Iraqi government and shore up public support for the war, President Bush was being bluntly told by Republican moderates that Iraq is a looming political disaster for the GOP."

There's also been a lot of reaction in the blogosphere. See, for example, The Carpetbagger Report on the left and Captain's Quarters on the right. As if anticipating likely GOP talking points, Ed Morrissey of CQ points the blame squarely at the Iraqis: "The lack of energy from the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki has added what might be a final straw to Republican discontent about the progress of the war."

Progress? What "progress"? The war -- and particularly the occupation -- has been a disaster. That couldn't have anything to do with Republican discontent, could it?

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Rudy Giuliani, abortion, and the GOP smear machine

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So, it seems, Giuliani (and his ex-wife Donna Hanover) gave money to Planned Parenthood back in the '90s. So reports The Politico, which claims to have received copies of Giuliani's old federal tax returns from "aides to a rival campaign". It was all of $900 that Rudy and Donna gave to the pro-choice organization over the course of four years, but, in my view, good for them. As Barbara O'Brien notes, "Planned Parenthood is a great organization on the front lines of the fight for reproductive rights". And that means much more than abortion. It means birth control and, above all, education. Like Giuliani, I "hate" abortion and "wish there never was an abortion," but the reality is that some pregnancies are unwanted, and, given this reality, abortion will continue to be a reality, too, whether we like it or not. And so the question is not whether or not there will be abortion but how abortion will be practised. And it seems to me that the best practise is for abortion to be safe and legal and for women (as well as men) to make educated and empowered choices with respect to sex and reproduction. (And remember, the key to reducing abortion is birth control.)

But that's not what the Republican Party believes, on the whole, and its current presidential frontrunner is leading a mediocre pack of candidates only because he's coasting on memories of 9/11, is appealing to the party's authoritarian inclinations, and, as Steven Taylor puts it, "a lot of voters aren't paying attention yet". But this latest effort indicates that "coordinated efforts" are underway "to end the Giuliani campaign," according to John Cole. Simply put, Giuliani isn't "wingnut enough" on the one issue that really gets Republicans going.

I suspect that Giuliani will fade as more and more Republicans -- specifically, likely primary voters -- start paying attention to the race. He will continue to have a solid constituency of support from those who like their politicians authoritarian and who emphasize 9/11 and the so-called war on terror that President Bush and the Republicans have wielded as a partisan weapon, dividing instead of uniting, repeatedly asserting that they (and only they) can keep America safe, but it does not seem to me that Giuliani will be able to overcome the voting power, particularly in the primaries, of the party's social conservative base, a base that will not excuse Giuliani his liberal leanings, particularly on the one issue that matters most to it. His only real hope, I suppose, is that no social conservative alternative emerges as a viable rival and that the social conservative vote splits among several other candidates. And, thus far, no such social conservative has emerged. Mitt Romney has his own "liberal" leanings, however much he may renounce them, and Sam Brownback has yet to attract much attention. Fred Thompson could unite the right, but only if social conservatives don't pay close attention to his record. Newt Gingrich may be the only other option, but he's not yet officially in the race.

Regardless, it will be interesting to watch how this all plays out.

For more on Giuliani, the Republican Party, and abortion, see our friend and co-blogger Mustang Bobby over at Shakesville.

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By Michael J.W. Stickings

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) really, really, really supports the Iraq War. And in really, really, really supporting the war (and the troops) on the floor of the House, he quoted, of all people, one Nathan Bedford Forrest, a "successful Confederate general".

Forrest was indeed a Confederate general, and quite a celebrated one, a "wizard of the saddle" (according to this bio), but what Poe neglected to mention was that Forrest was also a slave trader, a war criminal (see Fort Pillow Massacre), and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. For more on the real Forrest, rather than the one held in high regard by modern-day sympathizers and apologists, see this report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Think Progress has the video/transcript of Poe's remarks.

Eugene Volokh is right that Poe was quoting Forrest's "famous military advice". And he is also right that many highly quotable historical figures, such as Napoleon and Mao, Luther and Stalin, did or said or believed horrible things. And Ed Morrissey also makes good points about "glass houses".

All of which is to say: This is, in my view, much ado about not very much.

It was insensitive and perhaps stupid of Poe to quote Forrest, but he was not, in quoting him, endorsing his racism or the Klan. If anything, he was just exposing his own ignorance for public view.

Furthermore, this episode hardly proves that the Republican Party is racist.

Still, it was my good friend Steve Benen who started what has become a blogospheric maelstrom, linking to the original piece in Roll Call and providing the initial commentary. I must disagree with his assertion that this should "be a bigger deal," that it is all "rather scandalous". I must also therefore disagree with another friend, Melissa McEwan, who agrees with Steve. However, Steve and Melissa are quite right to mention the Republican Party's "race problems," with Melissa reminding us of the specific problems of the GOP's recent past. This is precisely why I found Poe's remarks insensitive and perhaps stupid, if not nearly as meaningful as Steve and Melissa found them.

This episode is getting quite a bit of attention at the moment, but what I take from it is that some politicians are amazingly ignorant and that Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a truly reprehensible man. That's about it.

Genuine bigotry is to be found elsewhere.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Republican calculus on Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Congressional leaders from both political parties are giving President Bush a matter of months to prove that the Iraq war effort has turned a corner, with September looking increasingly like a decisive deadline," WaPo is reporting. It is then that the deus ex machina known as Gen. David H. Petraeus will "have a handle on whether the current troop increase [i.e., the "surge"] is having any impact on political reconciliation between Iraq's warring factions," or so he says.

So is September the key month? Maybe. If Petraeus says at that point that the surge isn't working, then the pressure on Bush to withdraw the bulk of U.S. forces will intensify. But I doubt that Petraeus would be so blunt. More likely, he'll hedge, saying that the surge is sort of working. (And there is evidence that it is sort of working -- the problem is that it's only sort of working in a limited and illusory way, that is, that the surge is a band-aid, not reconstructive surgery.)

The key won't be Petraeus's assessment of the situation, however, but how Republicans respond to that assessment, to what they perceive to be the facts on the ground in Iraq, and to shifts in public opinion. Whether or not the surge is working, or sort of working, or whatever, Republicans -- many of them, anyway -- have had more than enough of the Iraq War and, with a solid 2006 defeat behind them, are looking ahead anxiously to 2008. Bush, who isn't facing re-election, can afford to push for the war to continue as is. So can McCain, who's running as a hardliner against his fellow Republicans. But Republicans in Congress -- the ones who aren't running for president, that is -- cannot afford to neglect political reality. And that reality is that the country has turned against the war and is not about to support an extension of the war as is unless there is a clear improvement in Iraq, and perhaps not even then.

And Republicans know that. Hence their calculation.

It made sense -- to them, one presumes -- to support Bush in opposition to the Democrats' troop withdrawal bill, insofar as it makes sense not to have it seem as if the Democrats have "won" the issue. But it also makes sense not to go into 2008 supporting Bush's highly unpopular war. Which means that the Republicans who have had enough of the Iraq War need to figure out how long to continue supporting it before ultimately turning against it -- and how to do this seamlessly and without seeming to have "lost". If Petraeus gives them an opening, perhaps by implying, if not saying so outright, that the results of the surge thus far are inconclusive, that is, by claiming anything other than outright success, these Republicans could take it as the best opportunity to get out well in advance of the 2008 elections.

What Bush will do is another matter, of course. He may not give in to calls for withdrawal even if his own party abandons him in large numbers in Congress. Or he, too, may take the opportunity presented to him.

What is clear, though, is that pressure to withdraw the bulk of U.S. forces will likely mount over the coming months unless there is unambiguous evidence of success in Iraq, which is unlikely. And that means that more and more Republicans could soon be moving over to the Democrats in search of a suitable compromise that includes withdrawal. The Democrats just need to wait for enough of them to do so before they once more press Bush on ending his disastrous war.

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France's fin de siècle

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The French presidential election that concluded this past Sunday with Sarkozy's victory over Royal in the second round featured several high-profile candidates from across the political spectrum (Sarkozy and Royal, of course, but also Bayrou and Le Pen, and, to a lesser degree, Besancenot and de Villiers) with divergent positions on many key issues (Europe, immigration, the economy, the environment, energy, taxes, law and order, among others) and divergent visions for France. The French may be deeply conservative in their general opposition to change, but their leading candidates were all advocates of change.

But what united them all, from the far left to the far right, was not just advocacy of change but opposition to the unacceptable status quo. And the status quo is outgoing President Jacques Chirac and the so-called "declinism" that has come to define his 12-year presidency. From a foreign policy perspective, Anne Applebaum has more on this in her latest piece at Slate, where she examines his horrendous "diplomatic legacy":

One of consistent scorn for the Anglo-American world in general and the English language in particular, of suspicion of Central Europe and profound disinterest in the wave of democratic transformation that swept the world in the 1980s and 1990s, of preference for the Arab and African dictators who had been, and remained, clients of France. In his later years, Chirac constantly searched, in almost all international conflicts, for novel ways of opposing the United States. All along, he did his best to protect France from the rapidly changing global economy.

It was, in other words, the legacy of a man who was deeply conservative, almost Brezhnevite in his view of the world -- so much so that the word most often used to describe his political beliefs is "stagnation." But as he leaves office, the loudest condemnation of his twelve years as head of state comes not from the outside world, but from the French themselves. Don't listen to me, listen to them: After all, it is they who have just elected a man who promised to "break with the ideas, the habits and the behavior of the past."

The French may not want change, or much change, but they voted for change and, at least at the outset, Sarkozy is promising change.

What the French need, it seems to me, is at least enough change to put Chirac behind them for good.

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"I'm the king of the world! -- hehehe"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Photo: BBC (which has ten more from the queen's state visit to Washington).

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Empty slogans, perpetual war

By Creature

Chip Reid on MSNBC clarifies the GOP's September "timeline" position:

However, we have talked to aids to John Boehner, who talked about the need for a plan B sometime in the fall, and Trent Lott, who said he wants to see some kind of results by the fall, they say they are simply stating the obvious. That what's going on here is the Republicans are saying that when Patreous comes back they want to hear how things are going, if they are not going well Plan B doesn't mean withdrawing troops, these Republican officials say, they say it means another plan for success. So, Democrats are seizing on these [September] remarks saying see the Republicans too have timetables here and they're hinting at withdrawing troops. The Republicans say that's not what they are talking about. When they talk about about a Plan B it's not getting the troops out, it's some other plan for success.

It's official now, the Friedman's will continue.

(H/T: my DVR -- Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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A fun little quiz

By Heraclitus

Okay, I'll post the famous opening to a well-known novel, and let's see who can guess or identify it. Whether or not anyone answers correctly (or indeed participates at all), I'll give the answer in comments sometime tomorrow. And I highly recommend this title if you're looking for any summer reading.

I am a sick man…I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don’t know a fig about my sickness, and am not sure what it is that hurts me. I am not being treated and never have been, though I respect medicine and doctors. What’s more, I am also superstitious in the extreme; well, at least enough to respect medicine. (I’m sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to be treated out of wickedness. Now, you will certainly not be so good as to understand this. Well, sir, but I understand it.


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Monday, May 07, 2007

A tale of two disasters

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is all that's left of the high school in Greensburg, Kansas (photo from the Globe). CBS: "The death toll from a tornado that nearly obliterated this farming town climbed to 10 on Monday." It seems that 95 percent of the town was destroyed. But what is hindering the response to the disaster? Iraq, says Governor Sebelius:

The rebuilding effort in tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kansas, likely will be hampered because some much-needed equipment is in Iraq, said that state’s governor.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone. She said not having immediate access to things like tents, trucks and semitrailers will really handicap the rebuilding effort.

Yet another huge cost of the disaster that is the Iraq War, one usually left out of the debate. As if it's not bad enough that the Iraq War has hindered America's ability to fight the so-called war on terror and to respond to crises around the world, it seems now that the war has also hindered America's ability to respond to its own crises, that is, to help Americans in times of need -- to help entire communities that have been destroyed. This may not be the sort of post-Katrina incompetence that revealed the bungling ineffectuality of the Bush Administration, but it's just as damning.

Think Progress has the video of Sebelius on CNN: "Well, states all over the country are not only missing personnel, National Guard troops are -- about 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but we're missing the equipment. When the troops get deployed, the equipment goes with them. So, here in Kansas, about 50 percent of our trucks are gone. We need trucks. We're missing Humvees, we're missing all kinds of equipment that can help us respond to this kind of emergency."

See also The Carpetbagger Report, The Mahablog, and The Gun Toting Liberal.

And here's MyDD with the political context: "Bush has a 37-58 approval/disapproval rating in that state, and it's only going to get worse as the connection between Iraq and the slower recovery is drawn. Iraq is an all-encompassing issue, and will devastate Republicans in 2008."

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Too much like McCain?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Dickerson thinks the winner of last week's first GOP presidential debate was the celebrity non-candidate who wasn't there: Fred Thompson. And I tend to agree. It was "a tale of 10 losers," as our Edward Copeland put it, with none of the candidates -- even the frontrunners, Giuliani and McCain -- standing out above the others, or, rather, standing out so far above as to put all doubt to rest and to warrant some legitimate hype. (A new poll indicates that the top three Democrats (Clinton, Obama, Edwards) would beat the top three Republicans (Giuliani, McCain, Romney) in any head-to-head match-up.)

And so the doubt remains -- along with the discontent.

Giuliani may be sufficiently authoritarian, but he's also a liberal, or at least a libertarian, or at least not a theocrat. McCain has sufficient seniority and experience, but conservatives don't like him or trust him, he's too liberal, and everything seems to be slipping away from the former frontrunner, which could explain his somewhat un-presidential bearing, his "nerves". (As Dickerson remarked: "McCain answered his first questions with such gusto that he appeared to be plugged into a car battery hidden somewhere on his person.") Romney looks the part, but he has too liberal a past, is a Mormon (which may or may not be a problem, they're not sure), and may be "too perfect and too calculating". And the rest? Well, who cares?

In evaluating the current Republican love-in with Thompson (Fred, if not Tommy), Dickerson has pointed to the Hollywood star's "past McCain habit": "[He] co-chaired McCain's 2000 presidential campaign and was his ally when the two served in the Senate". (Oops.) He also co-sponsored McCain-Feingold. (Double oops.) And now WaPo has picked up on the Thompson-is-like-McCain meme. Thompson -- whether the real person or the character he plays on Law & Order, District Attorney Arthur Branch, it's not at all clear -- is "a real Reagan-type conservative" (Dick Armey's words), and that's what Republicans seem to want -- there isn't one among the ten losers, it seems.

But -- dreams be shattered -- McCain "was far and away his best friend in the Senate," according to a former aide. Thompson may be stressing his conservative bona fides, but looking at his record and his political temperament he seems to be an awful lot like McCain. (Poor McCain. If only he'd quit the Senate in 2000 and signed on to do CSI: Phoenix or something. As the GTL remarks, Republicans "bash and bash Hollywood again and again" even as they "turn to that very same town, time after time, to find their leaders for the highest offices in the land".)

Go read Dickerson and the WaPo piece for more on the McCain-Thompson connection. And go see Ed Morrissey, who attempts to disconnect the two: "Fred and John are quite different -- and the GOP base understands that". (Okay, fine, but I'm not convinced.)

And -- if you just can't get enough of him -- check out a few of my previous posts on the celebrity non-candidate: The Fred Thompson romance, Politics and entertainment: The fact and fiction of Fred Thompson, and Imaginary politics.

(And then, again, go watch The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard 2: Die Harder.)

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LVI

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A bloody Sunday:

Roadside bombs killed eight American soldiers in separate attacks Sunday in Diyala province and Baghdad, and a car bomb claimed 30 more lives in a wholesale food market in a part of the Iraqi capital where sectarian tensions are on the rise.

In all, at least 95 Iraqis were killed or found dead nationwide Sunday, police reported. They included 12 policemen in Samarra, among them the city's police chief, who died when Sunni insurgents launched a suicide car bombing and other attacks on police headquarters.

These last throes are taking forever, aren't they?

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

A convergence of catastrophies

By J. Kingston Pierce

May 6, 1937: At 7:25 p.m., the German zeppelin Hindenburg burst into flames as it tried to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. While newsreel cameras continued to film, and radio reporter Herbert Morrison delivered his pain-struck and now famous blow-by-blow of events (“this is terrible; this is the one--one of the worst catastrophes in the world”), the 804-foot, hydrogen-filled “ship of the air” crashed to the ground. Thirty-five of the 97 passengers and crew on board were killed. As Wikipedia recalls, “Most deaths did not arise from the fire but were suffered by those who leapt from the burning ship. (The lighter-than-air fire burned overhead.) Those passengers who rode the ship on its descent to the ground survived. Some deaths of crew members occurred because they wanted to save more people on board the ship.”

May 6, 2007: Newsweek reporter Marcus Mabry
writes that “It’s hard to say which is worse news for Republicans: that George W. Bush now has the worst approval rating of an American president in a generation, or that he seems to be dragging every ’08 Republican presidential candidate down with him. But according to the new Newsweek Poll, the public’s approval of Bush has sunk to 28 percent, an all-time low for this president in our poll, and a point lower than Gallup recorded for his father at Bush Sr.’s nadir. The last president to be this unpopular was Jimmy Carter who also scored a 28 percent approval in 1979. This remarkably low rating seems to be casting a dark shadow over the GOP’s chances for victory in ’08. The Newsweek Poll finds each of the leading Democratic contenders beating the Republican frontrunners in head-to-head matchups.”

(Cross-posted from Limbo.)

READ MORE:Survivors Recall Hindenburg 70 Years On,” by Chris Newmarker (AP).

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Sarkozy beats Royal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(Updated below.)


The BBC is reporting that Sarkozy has beaten Royal by about 53% to 47%. Turnout is estimated to have been an astonishing 85.5%, a clear indication that this election mattered to voters -- and that there were important issues being discussed, that the leading candidates were presenting compelling alternative platforms, that the candidates themselves were strong, and that the election itself was competitive.

I have made my opinions known in several previous posts on the election-- see here, for example. As many of you know, I was pulling for Royal, hoping that support from Bayrou's centrist supporters would put her over the top. Polls conducted in the last few days before the election, however, had Sarkozy up by four to ten points, suggesting that there was no such Bayrou-based boost for Royal. Indeed, both those poll results and today's election results are consistent with poll results for a Sarkozy-Royal second round from before the first round. Although a couple of those earlier polls had them at about 50/50, most had Sarkozy up by two to eight points.

I'll have more later, but check back with the BBC for updates.


UPDATE 1: For more coverage of the election, see CNN, WaPo, and Bloomberg.

From Sarkozy's victory speech, on the U.S.: "I'd like to appeal to our American friends to say that they can count on our friendship. But I would also like to say that friendship means accepting that your friends don't necessarily see eye to eye with you."

And on the climate crisis -- and here I agree with him completely: "[A] great nation like the United States has the duty not to oppose the fight against global warming, but to lead that battle, because what is at stake is the destiny of mankind."

For more on Sarkozy's speech, see the IHT.


UPDATE 2: From The Guardian: Sarkozy said that "[t]onight is not the victory of one France over another"; however: "as he talked, there were reports of car-burnings in the suburbs and trouble flaring in Lyon, with police firing flashballs after skirmishes between leftwing activists and Sarkozy supporters."

More: "His victory by 53% to 47% of the vote was the third consecutive presidential defeat for the Socialist party, which within moments of the first results had already begun tearing itself apart, even though it faces parliamentary elections within a month... However, Ms Royal showed no signs of stepping aside and vowed to stick it out and rally the battered party."


UPDATE 3: At the NYT, Craig Smith says that though both Sarkozy and Royal "promised to remake France," there likely won't be any "breaking with the past": "The French are notoriously resistant to change, and any new president would be hard-pressed to deliver any dramatic departure from the way people here live and work and get along with each other (or don’t)." Why is that?

-- "First, life in France is, on the whole, plenty comfortable. The French flirt with the idea of change, but few in the mainstream want to risk losing France's 'exceptionalism' -- that warm bed of traditions and entitlements that lets so many enjoy the benefits of living here."

-- "Second, there is something about the French that resists a change, even in times of trouble. Historians famously trace it to the Enlightenment, when France developed a republican model based on the collective will. By contrast, republican models in Britain and America stressed the primacy of economics and individualism -- what the French still, with a shudder, call liberalism."

So look for reform, but not revolution. The French have come a long way since 1789. And 1830. And 1848. And... Well:

Plus ça change, you know?

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Truth in Comics: Retro Remix - December 4, 2001

By Creature

If it's Sunday, it's Truth Naïveté in Comics.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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