Saturday, July 28, 2007

Global Interdependence Explored

By Carol Gee

(Image: ChinaDaily)

The Far East and The West have deeply intertwined economies. Electronic communication happens in a very small world. We know almost immediately what happens among trading partners and in the global stock markets. To quote a Phillippine blogger, Ceilito Habito,

It is often said that when the US economy sneezes, Asia – and much of the world, for that matter – catches a cold. And the reason for this is that as the biggest economy in the world, the US tends to be at or the near the top of many countries’ list of biggest trading and investment partners.

Biggest sneeze in 5 years - Yesterday the U.S. stock market took the biggest plunge in five years. The Financial Times called it a " ‘Wake-up call’ for investors." Reporters Michael Mackenzie and Saskia Scholtes in New York and Paul J Davies in London authored the July 27 2007 story from which I quote,

Wall Street closed lower on Friday after a tumultuous week in which the S&P 500 index experienced its worst performance since September 2002 as heightened credit market concerns battered stocks.

London saw all this year’s gains wiped out. There were also heavy falls in Asian stock markets, European stocks were lower and corporate debt markets saw further sell-offs.

Chinese currency unhealthy? Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will be visiting China next week to talk about economic issues and also about global warming (excuse me - "climate change.") And, as usual, the current Republican administration does not want Congress to stick its nose into what it thinks is Bush's business. According to the The Washington Post, "U.S. lawmakers have grown increasingly unhappy as America's trade deficit with China has soared, hitting $233 billion last year, the largest ever recorded with a single country and one-third of the U.S. total deficit with the rest of the world." In a related story, "The Senate Finance Committee voted 20-1 on Thursday to give the U.S. government new tools to press China to raise the value of its currency, but the Bush administration said it opposed the bill." Of course China has its own ideas about the currency question, posting this story: "US Treasury opposes currency bill" (China Daily) 2007-07-28. To quote,

The US Treasury Department said it continues to believe that the robust Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) is the best means of achieving progress, when opposing a bill aimed at pressing China to raise the value of its currency.

. . . The overwhelming vote shows Congress is headed toward passing legislation by a big enough margin to overcome any presidential veto, said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who helped craft the measure.

. . . Meanwhile, China has made it clear on many occasions that the country would carry out the exchange rate reform in an independent, controllable and gradual way to maintain the yuan's strength.

What about imported food safety? It will take us a long time to get over this stomach ache. Our pets got sick and died, our teeth were jeopardized, and we were forced to back off seafood consumption. This is what China says it is doing about the problems. ChinaDaily (7/28/07) headlined, "China issues new regulation* on food safety." Quoting the story,

China has faced a barrage of international criticism over the state of its food industry in the first six months of the year following a series of scandals.

Japan, Singapore, Australia and other countries sent back millions of toothpaste tubes and Canada halted imports from China.

During the cold season, it is good to wash your hands often. It is useful to remember to take precautions when going out and about with strangers. China and the U.S. have long been strangers. And for far too long China and the United States have taken the status quo for granted. The Chicago Tribune's China Bureau Chief, Evan Osnos integrates all of the above questions into a very useful article titled, "Safety of Imports Tests Trade Partners" (7/20/07). To quote from it,

. . . China and the U.S. share a delicate challenge: how to respond to consumer demands for tougher import protections without letting a tit-for-tat dispute undermine one of the world's most robust trade relationships.

. . . U.S. trade with China topped $343 billion last year, ranking it as the second-largest American trade partner, behind Canada. China's vast reserves of U.S. Treasury bonds have also helped the U.S. government fund its budget deficits and keep interest rates low.

For China, U.S. trade is no less indispensable. More of China's $1 trillion in exported goods went to the U.S. than anywhere else, allowing the Chinese Communist Party to create jobs and shore up domestic support.

The health of the east/west relationship will be put to another test in 2008. People from all over the world will come together in China next year for the Summer Olympics. It is an open question what effect this will have. Several questions loom over the event. highlights just one of those questions in this recent story, "Human rights questions remain for China."

With a year to go before the 2008 Olympics get under way, questions linger over China's efforts to improve its human rights record.

Observers and pressure groups have criticized the efforts of the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since Beijing won the bid in 2001, rejecting assertions by both that the Games will lead to lasting positive change in the world's most populous nation.

What will the next big sneeze be about? The Far East and the West are now inextricably interdependent. Questions of power, culture, dependence and interdependence need to be explored more fully. We have been financing our incredible national debt via China and other Far East economies. China's governmental system is evolving. Is the direction of the evolution healthy? How can the health of the earth's environment be managed to avert global catastrophe? The questions remain. They will be revisited most Saturdays at this blog. Stay tuned.

The main points are:
-- Inspection and quarantine authorities, as well as commercial and drug supervisors, should establish positive and negative records for Chinese food exporters and submit the records to the media regularly.
-- Local governments at county level and above are mainly responsible for the supervision of food product safety.
-- Exporters of food products who provide fake quality certificates or evade quality and quarantine inspections will be fined three times the product's value.
  • New York Times - "China Rises" (Interactive website & video)
  • New York Times - "China Courts Africa" (2006)
  • -"Corporate Social Responsibility Ranking Scale of Countries" (Includes good article. Note: U.S.=18th and China, Hong Kong=20th)
    1. (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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      That reminds me

      By Creature

      AP: Cheney's ticker battery to be replaced

      In a related story...

      [I'm still not sure where exactly Lil' Bush falls on the funny scale, but the moment Lil' Cheney opens his mouth the GF and I are quickly thrown into spasms.]

      (Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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      Friday, July 27, 2007

      The FBI takes the front page

      By Carol Gee

      (Image from "Free Images-UK")

      FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time in six years yesterday, making headlines with the committee. His candid and careful testimony about his beleaguered boss also made the overseas papers. "FBI chief contradicts Gonzales testimony" was the headline of a story by Edward Luce of the Washington bureau - Financial Times - on Friday, July 27 2007. To quote the gist of this very big story,

      Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on Thursday flatly contradicted sworn testimony given by Alberto Gonzales in a blow that sharply raises the chances that the attorney-general will be investigated for perjury.

      Mr Mueller’s testimony came a few hours after four senators called for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate Mr Gonzales for giving allegedly misleading testimony about the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping programme. Mr Gonzales, who has maintained that there was no dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programme, has repeatedly been contradicted both by officials and lawmakers.

      Read behind the headlines - Steve Benen wrote an excellent post at The Carpetbagger Report regarding the striking testimony of FBI Director Robert Mueller yesterday before the House Judiciary committee. In his appearance Director Mueller, who is very widely respected, contradicted the man for whom he works, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The AG's Senate Judiciary Committee testimony had made the headlines of the previous day.

      Florida Democratic Rep takes different tack - Given the FBI's assigned responsibility for domestic counter terrorism following 9/11, the agency has a very large helping on its plate. At the same time its responsibility for fighting crime has not gone away. Watching the "House Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI Oversight" yesterday on C-SPAN, viewers saw a well-prepared U.S. Representative Debbie Wassermen Schultz (D-Fla) ask FBI Director Robert Mueller to look into the large disparity between the number of agents (2000+) assigned to white collar crime and the (200+) focused on the proliferation of internet child pornography rings. Noting limited resources, the director agreed to look into it.

      Speaking of "white collar crime" - Since the FBI now has significant responsibility for counter terrorism, it has also meant a larger foreign presence. Overseas work involves coordination of efforts with other nations, and not merely in the al Qaeda arena. This was the recent FT headline reporting that, "China joins FBI in piracy operation." It was written by Mure Dickie in Beijing Financial Times and published: July 24 2007. To quote from the article,

      An “unprecedented” joint crackdown on software piracy by Chinese police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has led to 25 arrests and the seizure of counterfeit software worth $500m, the FBI said on Tuesday.

      . . . The FBI, which has had a liaison office in Beijing since 2002, stepped up its co-operation with local law enforcement authorities two years ago amid concerns that disputes over piracy were putting the Sino-US trade relationship at risk.

      How is your computer system doing, Mr. Director? It is the proverbial inquiry whenever Director Mueller comes before any congressional committee. At each such appearance, he is asked about the current progress with the FBI's computerization program. In December of last year, the Washington Post described the program's saga and the size of the problem.

      The Justice Department's inspector general warned yesterday that funding for the FBI's new Sentinel computer system is uncertain and that the program's final price tag could exceed its $425 million budget.

      It is like an old joke - Asked the question again yesterday, Director Mueller described the size of the task as having "miles of files" (paper) all over the nation that have yet to be digitized. Given the magnitude of what seems an almost insurmountable problem, Director Mueller has yet to meet the challenge of fundamentally changing an entrenched FBI culture.

      Leftovers from another era catch up with the FBI - This is today's Boston Globe headline: "US ordered to pay $101.7m in false murder convictions; FBI withheld evidence in '65 gangland slaying." I quote from the story by Shelley Murphy and Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff, July 27, 2007:

      A federal judge held the FBI "responsible for the framing of four innocent men" in a 1965 gangland murder in a landmark ruling yesterday and ordered the government to pay the men $101.7 million for the decades they spent in prison. The award is believed to be the largest of its kind nationally.

      If the FBI Director had his way, he would probably prefer to stay out of the headlines. Robert Mueller is a good man trying to do his very best in extremely difficult times, and given the administration for whom he works. We can imagine that it was a tired man who hit his front porch last night. And he might have skipped his morning paper upon arising today.

      My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is an antiwar poem.

      (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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      Blast off!

      by Capt. Fogg

      The most important thing in rocket travel is the blast off. I always take a blast before I take off! Otherwise, I wouldn't go near that thing!

      -Jose Jimenez

      Old timers like me remember laughing at comedian Bill Dana's comic character Jose Jimenez' astronaut routine that was so popular during the 60's that even the Project Mercury astronauts, if the movie The Right Stuff is to be believed, adopted him as a mascot. Although the comic stereotype may seem a bit questionable to today's sensibilities, it's not hard to identify with the sentiment. Getting into a vintage vehicle with a few million miles on the odometer, built by the lowest bidder and filled with enough high explosives to light up the night sky 200 miles away is something that I couldn't do without a heavy slug of the right stuff either - better make it a triple.

      It shouldn't be a surprise that some astronauts are alleged to have had similar feelings and according to Aviation Week & Space Technology's Web site, a special panel studying astronaut health found that on two occasions, astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so drunk they posed a safety risk.

      There was a time when I viewed NASA as a wonderland; a golden gate leading to a brave new world, but that wonderland has become as shabby to look at as any Motel 6 in rural Alabama. One by one, all the reasons I once had to brag about the United States of America have been tarnished, debauched or sold down the river. This doesn't come lose to the embarrassment I feel at living in a country that has George W. Bush as a president, but it doesn't help.

      (Cross posted at Human Voices.)

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      More Bad News For McCain; Death Cat Curling Up Next To His Campaign Photos

      Senator and Presidential Hopeful Drops F-Bomb, As Feline Grim Reaper Maintains Streak, Giving Signal That McCain Effort Over;

      By J. Thomas Duffy

      In the "What Else Can Go Wrong Department", reports indicated that the uncanny Rhode Island nursing home cat that foresees death, is said to have been curling up next to newspaper campaign photos of Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

      Additionally, Oscar the Death Cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, R.I. runs and sits under the television whenever the Senator is on the screen.

      McCain, the ardent supporter of President Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, and 2008 Presidential hopeful, has seen his campaign sink, dogged by headlines in recent weeks of "John McCain goes off the rails", "McCain's Meltdown" and "The Implosion Of Senator John McCain" as well as the abandonment of staffers rivaling the sinking of the Titanic, including more yesterday, when his media team resigned.

      Now, having Oscar the Death Cat stalking him, even from a distance, can't be an encouraging sign for the man who's heading to be the modern day Alf Landon.

      "He's a cat with an uncanny instinct for death," said Dr. David M. Dosa, assistant professor at the Brown University School of Medicine and a geriatric specialist, in a Boston Globe interview. "He attends deaths. He's pretty insistent on it."

      Oscar has foreseen 25 deaths in the two-years he's been at the nursing home.

      Officially, the McCain camp (well, what's left of it, which may be better described as an outing or gathering) would offer no comment.

      However, sources have told The Garlic, that when McCain was told about Oscar the Death Cat, the Senator launched into one of his trademark explosions.

      "Now", seethed McCain, "I have a fucking cat weighing in on my campaign ... A fucking little, mangy, stinking fucking cat is gonna tell me I can't run for President ... What is this, the Daily Kos's cat! ... Move-Fucking-On programming fucking cats now to screw with me! ..."

      McCain, sources in attendance said, then tore of his his flak jacket and stormed out of the room, still mumbling about the cat.

      "It's really sad", offered Irena Dubrovna, who publishes "The GOP Litter Box" an advice and information newsletter for Republicans who own cats, but are conflicted that their feline pets aren't self-sufficient, "but not all that surprising."

      "I mean, McCain ... In a Blackberry, IM, YouTube world, John McCain is Morse Code and carbon paper ... It's not surprising that this cat would catch his campaign's death scent."

      Bonus Links

      McCain - Obama Feud Update; Obama Grammy Sends McCain Heading Into Studio

      McCain Says Abducted and Grilled By Cheney; Won't Budge On Torture Ban; Held For Two-Days In Secret Bunker; Hadley Defends 'Discussion", Saying Part of New National Victory Strategy

      McCain explodes after learning Oscar the Death Cat has signaled his presidential campaign is over

      (Cross Posted at The Garlic.)

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      Thursday, July 26, 2007

      Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXVII

      By Creature

      Today, in the hell of our making.

      BAGHDAD - A highly sophisticated simultaneous truck bombing and rocket attack devastated a Shiite market district in one of Baghdad's safest central neighborhoods Thursday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 95. Separately, the American military announced the deaths of seven U.S. troops.

      And, it wouldn't be 'Just Another Day' without a little undocumented finger pointing at Iran.

      Without offering any proof, [General] Odierno said networks continue to smuggle powerful roadside bombs and mortars across the border from Iran despite Tehran's assertions that it supports stability in Iraq.

      (Cross-posted at State of the Day.)


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      The neocons win

      By Creature

      Last week an undersecretary at the Pentagon, Eric Edelman, called a sitting senator, Hillary Clinton, a traitor [previous posts one, two, and three]. After this political swipe to a serious question-- Iraq withdrawal plans--the onus was on Edelman's boss, Robert Gates, to act. Today the secretary of defense did act, that is if a flip-flopping letter counts as action.

      Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton that a top Pentagon official did not intend to impugn her patriotism by suggesting that questions about U.S. planning in Iraq boosts enemy propaganda.

      At the same time, Gates defended his aide and the author of the letter, Undersecretary for Policy Eric Edelman, calling him "a valued member" who provides "wise counsel and years of experience (that) are critically important to the many pressing policy issues facing the military."

      Let us all recall that Eric Edelman is a neoconservative. Let us all recall that Eric Edelman is a former Cheney aide. Let us recall that it was the neocon's "wise counsel" that brought us the Iraq war and continues to keep us there. The fact that Robert Gates chose to defend Edelman is telling. Telling because Gates was supposed to represent a break from the administration's neocon past. He was to be the anti-Rumsfeld.

      I think it's clear now that Gates is no such thing.

      The fact that Edelman has kept his job shows that Gates has no spine to stand-up the vice president. The fact that Edelman has kept his job shows that, once again, the neocons win and our democracy loses.

      (Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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      Reality's Anchors

      By Carol Gee

      What is the reality in the Middle East?

      Do we need to worry about this? Has the war in Iraq had an effect on financial markets around the world? Are the two realities connected here? Or is the decline merely about a troubled housing market? Last weekend we learned in the Dallas News about a fiscal situation that could be worrisome: "Dollar drops to record low in Europe: read the headline, 01:00 PM CDT on Saturday, July 21, 2007. To quote,

      The dollar dropped to a record low vs the euro and the weakest in 26 years vs the pound on speculation losses from sub prime mortgages will worsen the U.S. economic outlook.

      The U.S. currency fell a sixth straight week against the euro and pound, while tumbling to a 22-year low vs. the New Zealand dollar and the weakest in 18 years against the Australian dollar. The dollar may extend its drop next week as U.S. reports may show declining sales of existing and new homes.

      We definitely need to worry about this: Earlier this month The Independent carried a report on benchmarks (7/13/07): "Bush's optimism is impossible to square with the situation in Iraq," with a Hat Tip to Informed Comment's Juan Cole for the link. In times of great difficulty we need to look to what is real to keep ourselves grounded. Evidently OCP, our current president, does not favor this approach.

      Not to worry - look at the ground truth. I use the term "current president" to remind myself that the Bush administration is temporary. And we are already in the middle of a hot presidential race. Fortunately, it seems that the military forces in Iraq do "get it" about political reality. On 7/20/07,- TxSharon at BlueDaze posted "What do the troops want?", asking whether they are antiwar or not. Note that her blog also carries the "countdown of Bush's days left in office." Quoting the blog post's troop political stats intro,

      70.06% of all money contributed by active duty troops to presidential candidates went to anti-war candidates.

      Our worries put in perspective - The day 7-7-07 was supposed to be fortuitous. But my post that day, "By the numbers," was very downbeat. When that happens, many of us look to other bloggers to get us back to a semblance of reality. I saved another post at the time (7-7-07) because it did just that for me. Written by Buckarooskidoo at Make it Stop! Make it Stop!, it is wonderful (on the one hand/on the other hand) stuff. To quote the conclusion,

      This society and culture remain impossible to characterize definitively...they keep slipping through your fingers, keep right on transforming. They are a dynamic entity, capable of delivering surprises even now, when we can't bear to watch the US leadership on television or read its statements in the newspaper.

      I'm oddly buoyed, even in this most dispiriting time.

      The reality of what we were thinking in the past is also a very useful anchor. By understanding previous our mindsets, we gain insight into how far we have (or have not) come to get to the current reality. A couple of years ago, after only a couple of weeks as a blogger, I was still uncomfortable with self revelation. As a longtime journal writer, I knew I needed to get what I was feeling "down on paper," in order to let it go. This is what I "journaled" at a then-private blog, In the Know @ Bloglines. It was posted on: Sun, Apr 17 2005 8:03 AM. It was titled, The Politics of Fear - I quote what I wrote back then and augmented a few days later:

      3/7/05: I watched Dr. Helen Caldicott for a portion of her 3-hour interview on C-SPAN yesterday. She is passionate about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. And she is acting out of a profoundly fearful view. She believes that, if we are not as worried and active as she is, we are performing "psychic numbing" within ourselves.

      What else are we to do? The cold war stayed relatively cold due to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, which was based on relying on the fears of the combatants that they could snuff out all life on the planet in an all out nuclear war. I guess it worked because we are still here, at least some of us. That was then, but the bombs, indeed are still there lurking as potential threats in the hands of terrorists, or threats if an accident or miscalculation happened. That is something else to be afraid of.

      Dr. Caldicott's main premise, however, is that men have to stop killing people. That idea speaks to a core fear that I, as a female human being, am not going to live if someone decides to kill me. And this is the weapon used by the fear mongers who are now in charge of our country. They want to keep us all afraid of The Terrorists Who Want to Kill Americans. We can annihilate them all or we can get to know about them. And our leaders are too afraid to try the latter tactic. They live in perpetual fear of the next 9/11. So the terrorists have won in the sense that we are now terrified. Circle closed.

      3/21/05: About myself I have learned that I write to relieve anxiety, to "get it out," so I can let it go. This is a big benefit of my self expression. These are scary times and the blogosphere exists for many of us for the same reasons.

      Reality today is anchored for me today by these truths. I will not be ruined by the ups and downs of financial markets; I have Social Security. I know that I am with the strong and dynamic majority of the American people (including many in the military) in understanding the reality of the war in Iraq, unlike OCP. His "politics of fear" no longer works with us.

      (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

      My post at Making Good Mondays is a new antiwar poem.

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      Did Alberto Gonzales commit perjury?

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      I defer to the Anonymous Liberal on this one -- and it's a post you should all read.

      In brief, "the most likely explanation is that Gonzales is choosing his language very carefully and making an unspoken definitional distinction between the [Terrorist Surveillance Program] as it existed in December 2005 -- when the president first confirmed its existence -- and the program that existed from 2001 to early 2004 -- when the DOJ refused to recertify it." However, "Gonzales is in a real bind here. Even assuming his semantic parsing is a sufficient defense against perjury charges, it seems pretty clear that he intentionally misled Congress."

      So when do you think Bush will award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom?

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      Headline of the Day (Gingrich-Thompson edition)

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      This one's loaded with amusement:

      Is there no stopping the homoerotic magnet that is Fred Thompson?

      It's like every chauvinistic, gay-bashing male who goes near him (I'm looking at you, Chris Matthews) walks away with a boner. (And the ladies seem to like him, too.)

      Here's the story:

      Newt Gingrich's long, slow striptease over whether he will seek the presidency in 2008 looks like it might come to an unexpected conclusion: a date with Fred Thompson.

      Publicly, Gingrich has been sending signals making clear that a presidential candidacy for him is becoming less likely. Privately, he and some of his closest advisers have been meeting with -- and, in at least one prominent case, going to work for -- the lobbyist-actor and former Tennessee senator.

      I'm hardly a fan of The Politico, but that's awfully well put. Although the image of a Newt striptease fills me with revulsion and horror of a profoundly disquieting nature. Anyway, two points, both obvious:

      1) Man-crush.

      2) Gingrich knows he can't win and wants to back a winner. And Freddy T., to some, smells like a winner. That's a big part of his appeal, maybe the biggest.

      Will Thompson's bubble burst when he proves to be a lazy, uninspiring candidate with little desire for the White House? Or when that fuzzy line between fact (the real guy) and fiction (the characters he plays) becomes more distinct, shattering the hazy illusions of his besotted admirers? Or when it is revealed that his is not the second coming of Ronald Reagan, that his past is marred by moderation, that he isn't quite the hardline social conservative he is being made out to be (and making himself out to be)?

      Yes, maybe. The bubble could very well burst. But would it matter?

      Given his sex appeal, and with Republicans on their knees, maybe not.

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      Just another day in the life and death of Iraq LXV and LXVI

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      Tuesday: "A suicide car bomber has struck a busy marketplace in the Iraqi town of Hilla, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 60."

      Wednesday: "Two bomb attacks have killed at least 50 people and injured 135 in Baghdad as crowds celebrated the Iraqi national football team's win over South Korea."

      And today... and tomorrow... and...

      Nice little war you started, Mr. Bush.

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      Wednesday, July 25, 2007

      Turkish presidential election update & correction

      By AviShalom

      Thanks to a comment at an
      earlier Fruits & Votes thread, I can now clarify where things stand in the process of electing a president in Turkey. If I understand correctly, the newly elected parliament must still attempt to elect a president, because the term of the current president has expired and thus it is not constitutionally permissible to wait for possible voter approval in October of the referendum on direct presidential elections.

      The moderately Islamist ruling AKP again may put forward
      Abdullah Güll, the candidate that the opposition blocked in previous rounds of voting. It was the stalemate over electing a president in parliament that trigged the early parliamentary elections just concluded.

      With the AKP majority now reduced, it could again be impossible for parliament to elect a president. However, failure to do so could again trigger an early election for parliament, so I would expect the opposition to back down, given the huge
      surge in votes obtained by the AKP last Sunday.

      If parliament does elect a president, then the first direct presidential election would not be held until 2014 (assuming the president elected by this new parliament serves a full term and that voters approve the referendum), because the constitution currently provides for a seven-year term.

      More on Turkey in several posts at Fruits & Votes.

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      We weren't invited, but we are here to stay

      By Creature

      Today, Peter Baker of the Washington Post reports on new poll numbers that put George W. Bush on the verge of officially being the worst president ever.

      President Bush is a competitive guy. But this is one contest he would rather lose. With 18 months left in office, he is in the running for most unpopular president in the history of modern polling.

      The only person GWB is running against for this title is, not surprisingly, Richard M. Nixon.

      The article goes on to examine why the president's numbers have been so sucky for so long. And, guess what? For good, for bad, for ugly, they blame it on us:

      "A lot of the commentary that comes out of the Internet world is very harsh," said Frank J. Donatelli, White House political director for Ronald Reagan. "That has a tendency to reinforce people's opinions and harden people's opinions."

      The Internets have disrupted their beltway commentary masturbatory party. I say, good on us and go team!

      (Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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      Zealot-in-Chief, get around this one

      By Edward Copeland

      Dubya stays as firm and intransigent as he is on Iraq when it comes to stem cell research, despite the fact that most unused frozen embryos will be destroyed anyway.

      Now an article in Newsweek reports that 60% of those who had those embryos created during fertility treatments want them used for research anyway. I guess Dubya will try to claim eminent domain on them, right.

      After a successful series of infertility treatments, Kristen Cohen and her husband, Lee, had two sets of twin boys, now ages 6 and 2. They also had about a dozen embryos that they no longer needed but could not imagine going to waste. "We went through so much to create these embryos," says Kristen. "This was much more than blood, sweat and tears." The Cohens had also benefited firsthand from medical research; Lee, who has cystic fibrosis, has been helped by advanced treatments. So in 2006, when Kristen saw an article about the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, she contacted it and began the process of donating their embryos, which could be used to create new lines of embryonic stem cells. After five months of paperwork and counseling for the couple, the Cohen embryos were in the hands of researchers. "We know they might be destroyed without making a single stem-cell line," Kristen says. "I don't need to know that my embryo helped save patient X. It's the greater good."

      According to the article, a recent survey of more than 1,000 infertility patients found that 60 percent were willing to donate their frozen embryos for stem-cell research. Only 22 percent were interested in donating their embryos to another couple, while 24 percent indicated that they were likely to discard them. So, will Dubya try to go against the wishes of the true parents of the embryos as to the fate of those undeveloped cells?

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      The color of activism

      By Carol Gee

      Radical eco-activists of The Earth Liberation Front were sentenced to prison in Eugene Oregon recently. Theirs was the color of fire.

      Activism or Terrorism? What is the color of their stripe, is the old-fashioned question. One man's "Radical" is another's "Dedicated Activist." Where it gets very fuzzy is in the "domestic terrorism" arena. Civil libertarians want to make sure that the so-called war on terror does not sweep up activists, protestors, and people who practice civil disobedience in its pervasive nets. William McCall, for the AP at MSNBC (7/23/07) penned a very interesting analysis of the Liberation Front, from which I quote:

      More than a decade after they began setting fires across the West, remnants of the radical Earth Liberation Front stood before a federal judge, one by one, to hear her decide: Had they committed acts of domestic terrorism?

      The portrait that emerges is a band of young people, compassionate toward animals, seeking direction in life, looking to impress each other and reinforce their own sense of self-worth as much as they were looking for a cause. Mostly, they were desperate for attention for that cause.

      . . . U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales saw "The Family" in a much different light, calling the case "the largest prosecution of environmental extremists in U.S. history" who were responsible for "a broad campaign of domestic terrorism."

      U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken agreed — to a point. She ruled some of their crimes fit the federal definition of terrorism but others didn't; she imposed sentences ranging from 37 months for Thurston to 13 years for Meyerhoff.

      The colors of activism vary across the spectrum. From In-green to Hot-pink, from Power-coral to Radical-red, from Mellow-yellow to Yellow-coward, from Green-earth to Burndown-fire, it all depends on how you look at it. Where you are on the political spectrum dictates how you see the rainbow.

      Code Pink, The Green Movement - It is the most "IN" thing these days to be "living green." But Code Pink women, appearing often at congressional hearings, make many folks very uncomfortable; they want them to "just shut up!" Yesterday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Attorney General Gonzales* saw (and heard) Code Pink activists loudly urging the AG to resign. Fortunately, they barely phased Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Color words, with which most of us political junkies are very familiar, carry very different loads of emotional baggage with the general public. Those of us who feel we can be more discerning like to think we can evaluate activism in more subtle ways.

      Activist Cindy Sheehan, coming out of a brief retirement, wore khaki and carried a white cross yesterday as she was arrested in Rep. John Conyers' office. A fellow protester wore a red devil suit and a Bush mask with horns. Such folks regularly evoke barely disguised scorn in mainstream media reporters' stories, such as those linked here. For me Sheehan provides a very useful activist "bookend" for the rest of us who choose more traditional means of speaking out. I am a little old and a little frail to go to jail. I honor her willingness, if not her subtlety.

      Anti-war Liberal -- Activist-turned-legislator, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) passed out blue fliers last week as she rallied fellow House members in a march against the Senate Republican so-called "fillibuster" of Iraq war legislation. To quote from a (7/22/07) Washington Post story:

      So when Senate Republicans decided to block a Democratic measure to withdraw troops from Iraq during an all-night debate last week, Schakowsky reached back to her community-activist past. Off the printer came blue fliers: a "Candlelight Call to Action" to "Stop the Republican Iraq Filibuster." At the appointed hour of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 57 House Democrats gathered to march to a Senate park.

      Women started the Power Red movement - Now even male politicians sometimes consciously wear "Power Red" ties. Senator Clinton's Coral Pink jacket drew a comment from rival former senator John Edwards at the recent YouTube debate, as well as a post by Helena Andrews at To quote:

      That color! Coral, according to the experts, is a passionate hue that invokes a physical reaction in people. Clinton's got that same exact coat in electric sky blue. I’m glad she didn’t wear that one, because she looks like a space alien in it.

      She also didn’t choose patriotic red or military blue to emulate the cookie-cutter Capitol Hill looks to her right and left. She didn’t choose pink because she’s not 12 years old. She chose something appropriate, sophisticated, pithy and distinct... She even blushed on some bronzer.

      Colors evoke feelings -- Colors have significant psychological effects. You realize that no political movement has chosen yellow (shorthand for cowardice) as its signature color. My high school colors were green and gold -- "rich and proud!" We weren't actually, but we wanted to be. I'll bet you remember your school colors, too, and maybe even what you were told they stood for. The colors you favor have psychological underpinnings that go back a long way and that are influenced by your gender, where you are in the society in which you were raised, and where you are on the activist continuum.


      (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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      Climate change and rain

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      This is an especially pertinent finding given the flooding in the U.K., but, pertinence aside, it is yet more cause for concern, and for what ought to be global mobilization:

      Human-induced climate change has affected global rainfall patterns over the 20th Century, a study suggests.

      Researchers said changes to the climate had led to an increase in annual average rainfall in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

      But while Canada, Russia and northern Europe had become wetter, India and parts of Africa had become drier, the team of scientists added.

      The specifics:

      The team estimated that human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, was likely to have led to a 62mm increase in the annual precipitation trend over the past century over land areas located 40-70 degrees north, which includes Canada, northern Europe and Russia.

      They also suggested the increase of greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere had contributed a 82mm increase in the southern tropics and subtropics (0-30 degrees south), and a 98mm decrease in precipitation in the northern tropics (0-30 degrees north).

      The term for this sort of human activity is anthropogenic forcing. We're very good at it. Which means we're very bad for our planet.

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      Tuesday, July 24, 2007

      Top Ten Cloves: Ad campaigns U.S. can use to win over Iraqi people

      By J. Thomas Duffy

      News Item: The Pentagon Gets a Lesson From Madison Avenue; U.S. Needs to Devise a Different 'Brand' to Win Over the Iraqi People, Study Advises

      10. Humor: Montage of Dick Cheney speeches, talking about being liberators, insurgency in final throes, not part of Executive branch

      9. Saturation Campaign: "U.S. Democracy ... A Little Dab'll Do Ya!

      8. Tough Love: "A Democracy tastes good like an occupation should"

      7. In a PSA effort to get Iraqi's to rally around a new Constitution, will have a little old lady look into camera and bark "Where's The Beef!"

      6. Retro (Optimistic): You've got a lot to live ... And the U.S. has a lot to give ...

      5. Ambassador Ryan Crocker descending down into a moving, shiny convertible car, with voiceover "Let America Put You In The Driver's Seat"

      4. Have Miller Lite produce campaign; Clerics, politicians and celebrities around a square table for "Imam Law"

      3. Subtle: In variation of Volkswagen campaign, black screen with only "Good Citizens Wanted"

      2. Retro (Tough): The U.S. Military ... Takes A Licking But Keeps On Ticking ...

      1. A good jingle: "The U.S. Occupation is that heavenly democracy, heavenly democracy, heavenly democracy ... The U.S. Occupation is that heavenly democracy, Better democracy a millionaire's money can't buy

      Bonus Link

      Glenn Greenwald: Further politicization of the U.S. military's public statements

      (Cross-Posted at The Garlic.)

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      Beware the Ides of July

      By Carol Gee

      Let's call this period "The Ides of July." On July 15, 2007 (an Ide Day,*) Congress was deep into the debate over the war and Olympia Snowe was deciding to "defect" to the other side. Words without substance, however, marked the debate's eventual outcome. The bill was then pulled from the floor. And the Iraq war debate will be effectively off limits until "The Big September Report Due Date."

      (*my quote from an older Southwest Blogger post)

      "Beware of the Ides of March"
      Does this saying give you a vague sense of foreboding?
      Do you wonder what you should worry about on that day?
      If you are like me, you think, "I should know this, but I don't."

      Beware the Ides of March -- refers to a sense of impending doom, according to Wikipedia. The original Ides of March were made famous by the assassination on March 15, 44 BC. of Julius Caesar, retold in Shakespeare's play of the same name.

      Bound by structure and habit, Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle hit creative lows this summer. There seemed to be a dearth of new ideas. It is as if it were March 15, and something bad would happen if you showed up in the Senate with a workable innovation. Now deep discouragement is the general public view of the legislative process. To Congress it must feel like the summer doldrums. But they are bravely soldiering on before their scheduled August recess.

      Today in Congress both the Senate and the House are in session. Ten Senate committees or sub committees will meet, as well as 19 from the U.S. House. Tuesdays usually see party Caucus planning lunches for around the noon hour. The big news this week is that the House Judiciary Committee and the White House are on a collision course over the Justice Department's firing of U.S. attorneys. Tomorrow will see the committee vote whether to issue contempt citations to Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, provoking a potential constitutional showdown over "who is in charge over there."

      This July Capitol visitors are on their own. Another congressional issue bubbling up is the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center. It has not gone well. Hearings will commence in the House next week on the project. According to (7/24/07) The Washington Post's Lindsey Layton,

      The visitor center is expected to open next year under the east side of the Capitol at a cost of $600 million -- about double the original estimate and three years late, earning the nickname "Pig Dig" from the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. The three-level, 580,000-square-foot center will include workspace for Congress, 26 bathrooms and a cafeteria that can accommodate 550 people.

      Beware amateur poets -- About Congress I am an eternal optimist. I think things will have to get better. With that I conclude with my own little poem -- about the original Ides of March. It carries the same name as Shakespeare's play; it is edited and considerably shorter:

      "Honey, the Ides are here"

      Have no fear.
      It was Shakespeare
      Who brought you here.
      Julius Caesar was the play.
      March 15, 44 B.C. was the day.

      Caesar was warned not to go to the Senate.
      Doomed he was. Caesar they did assassinate.
      "Ides of March" -- the fifteenth was that doomed day.
      Mark Ides "new" now -- drama of old no longer resonates.


      1. Legislative votes recorded: Congress Votes Project database
      2. New Faces in Congress -- elected last year

      (Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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      Long, beautiful hair

      By Creature

      I was able to catch a good deal of the groundbreaking, first of its kind, super-spectacular, people-powered, YouTube Democratic debate last night and while all the pundits praised the format [see, X's post at SotD], I couldn't help think it was simply a more impersonal form of town hall event with really crappy production values.

      Sure there is power when a gay couple is on the screen asking why they can't get married, but wouldn't it be even more powerful if they were there in person?

      Overall, I came away liking John Edwards more. I have a baseline like for Edwards, but I've never been convinced he has the weight--in a leadership sense--to be president. His war vote still bothers me and his performance against Cheney in 2004 still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. But, last night, possibly when he attacked Bush for his vacations, or more likely when he went after the heath care establishment, something changed. For a moment I saw him as presidential.

      Though it's possible my entire opinion about Edwards was swayed by this:

      Brilliant, simply brilliant.

      Update: I'm not the only one who thinks Edwards found his voice last night.

      (Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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      A mighty wind

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      Yesterday was an uncommonly busy day here at The Reaction. We generally have anywhere between four and eight posts on any given day, but there were 13 yesterday. I'm truly fortunate to have such incredible co-bloggers, and, if I do say so myself, these are some excellent posts. Scroll down to check them out, or click on the links below. And come on back for more -- again and again. There will be many more posts to come, and, with a solid team in place, there will continue to be new posts for your blog-reading pleasure. Here's the recap of yesterday's output:

      And there were many more over the weekend from Creature, Carol, Libby, Fogg, Pierce, and MJWS.

      Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy.


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      Monday, July 23, 2007

      A government of children, not of men

      By Vivek Krishnamurthy

      I had the good fortune to get out of the law offices this afternoon and attend a hearing on Capitol Hill, as a fly on the wall on behalf of a client. Like most Americans, I hold Congress (and the executive, and the judiciary) in pretty low esteem, but I've got to say that I was quite impressed with the talent on display at this hearing. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that only Democrats attended.

      The substance of the hearing is not, however, the substance of this post. What had me surprised at today's hearing was the composition of the audience. I was expecting rows of greying, rotund Washington hacks (not that dissimilar to your faithful correspondent) sitting in on the hearing for their K Street lobbying firms; instead, the galleries were filled with a racially-diverse, gender-balanced picture of the prime of nerdy American youth. Fully one-half of the audience at today's hearing must have been under the age of 22. Indeed, some of the young men were still too young to shave. Eavesdropping and casual observation of security passes showed the majority of them to be summer interns.

      While it must be a heady experience to spend a summer working in the office of a Congress-person before one completes even their undergraduate education, that the hearing was packed with hordes of youngens points to a larger problem with the American system of government. By and large, it is not a government of laws, men, or women, but a government of children. Unlike the parliamentary democracies, where the bulk of the civil service stays in place through a change in government, the Executive Branch in the United States engages in a purge on a scale that would make a apparatchik blush when someone new comes into the White House. Some estimates pin the number of direct presidential appointees who change over during a transition at over 3,000 -- many of whom are young campaign volunteers who have no government experience, or much in the way of relevant life experience either. The most egregious examples in this administration of babes at the wheel come from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, where a 28-year old with connections to the Heritage Foundation was tasked with running that country's economy into the ground, and a 23-year-old aid to Rick Santorum landed a similarly plum post.

      To be sure, there are virtues to shaking up the system and injecting new blood once in a while, but such wholesale transitions systematically destroy the Executive Branch's institutional memory at the higher levels of authority. No wonder then that Condi Rice and her youthful underlings failed to apprehend the severity of the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks.

      The challenge, as with everything, is in achieving the right balance, in this case between youth and experience. The problem, however, is that Washington is a city to which the concept of balance is foreign -- except of course for the razor-thin balance of power in the Senate right now.

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      Flooding in the U.K.

      By Michael J.W. Stickings

      Tewkesbury, a historic and picturesque town in Gloucestershire that dates to before the Norman Conquest of the mid-11th century, lies between Birmingham to the north and Bristol to the south in west-central England, roughly WNW of London, well past Oxford, not far from the Welsh border. The beautiful Norman abbey, the town's most prominent building, was consecrated in 1121, about three decades after construction began. It was the site of an eponymous battle, one of the key confrontations of the War of the Roses, in 1471. It developed into a market town with an economy built largely around flour milling -- the last mill, however, closed in 2006 -- and it is now home to a thriving high tech industry. Including its surrounding areas, it is now a town of about 20,000 people.

      And it is, at present, a town that is largely under water.

      The flooding in the U.K. this month has been horrendous. My brother, a co-blogger here, lives west of London, near Reading, and, from what I understand, much of his yard is under water.

      The latest from the BBC is here: "Almost 350,000 homes are without running water and some 50,000 are without power as the flooding crisis continues in central and west England." The government's emergency response committee, nickhamed Cobra, has met to review the crisis: "[T]he water levels of both the Thames and Severn have exceeded those of devastating floods in 1947."

      For photos of the devastation, see here. And here, from those photos, is an overhead shot of Tewkesbury, with the abbey front and center:

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      A card for everyone

      By Vivek Krishnamurthy

      Sometimes the name really does say it all. Today, my temporary home town of New Haven, Connecticut became the first city in America to make identity cards available to all its residents -- regardless of their age or immigration status.

      Upon the presentation of two pieces of identification, the City of New Haven will issue residents with a photo identity card that allows them to access all of the city's services. With some luck, the card may come to be accepted by other community institutions as sufficient proof of identity to open a bank account or obtain a business license. New Haven requires applicants to present the same sort of documentation as the federal government requires for the issue of a Social Security card, so there's no reason to think that naughty people will be able to lay hands more easily on the "Elm City Resident Card" than any other piece of ID.

      New Haven's move is particularly welcome given recent attempts by municipalities from Suffolk County, New York to Prince William County, Virginia to pass draconian anti-immigrant ordinances in municipalities. Such measures, which seek to deny immigrants access to education, health care, and even policing services, are precisely the wrong way to deal with America's immigration quagmire. Far from convincing them to go home, attempts to exclude and marginalize illegal immigrants will only succeed in making our communities less healthy (by isolating immigrant communities from public health measures) and less safe (by giving criminals impunity to attack illegal migrants, who may not report crimes out of fear of being deported). Indeed, one of the main reasons why New Haven is issuing the cards is so that illegal immigrants will feel comfortable in approaching the authorities for help, which makes eminent sense to me.

      If you happen to live in New Haven, I'd urge you to apply for an Elm City Resident Card, and to use it wherever you can. Not only is it a great way of supporting this initiative, but the more people who possess the card, the less likely its holders are to be stigmatized as illegal immigrants. And if you don't have the good fortune to live in the city that serves up America's finest pizza, get out there and urge your local government to adopt a similar measure.

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      Even if Islamophobia does exist, you're still an idiot

      By jeffaclitus

      This clip from a Canadian news show of sorts reminds me why I despise certain segments of the western left. And, no offense to our Canadian readers, but those segments seemed to dominate in Toronto when I was there. Canadian intellectual and political life is at times so provincial that simply spouting a series of crudely anti-American cliches and canards seems to be not only encouraged but to be the only type of public discourse allowed (the fact that Canada's political and economic well-being rely entirely on American hegemony makes it more annoying still).

      Anyways, the clip is an interview between some simpering dolt named Avi Lewis (and there's something quintessentially Canadian about his simper) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Lewis is apparently married to the risible Naomi Klein, who is probably best known for writing a book called No Logo, but whom I personally remember chiefly for this little episode (see the final two paragraphs)). Lewis runs down a list of pseudo-leftist critiques of America so crass and boilerplate they would make Michael Moore blush. He doesn't seem to notice his incoherence--America can't be both a place where the great unwashed masses are foisting their Evangelical "values" on people (how exactly, we're not informed) and where no one has any political clout but monocled billionaires lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills.

      What I especially liked about Lewis's little performance, aside from Ali openly rolling her eyes at him, was how quickly he evinced the most vulgar kind of racism when Ali disagreed with him. A couple minutes of dissent, and Lewis starts calling her a dumb immigrant who's been brainwashed. Never mind that it's clear from every second of the interview that has preceded that he's an almost unbelievably ignorant and stupid little twit; she's the one with the accent.

      Lord knows there's plenty to disagree with in the Bush administation's policies, including the influence they've given to the Christian right. But to suggest some kind of equivalence between abstinence-only education -- as disgraceful as that may be in the context of American politics -- and executing homosexuals, throwing acid in the face of unveiled women, or, I don't know, murdering a filmmaker for making an unflattering movie about your religion -- to suggest such an equivalence isn't just morally and intellectually bankrupt, it's frightening. Or it would be, if it weren't obvious that to people like Lewis, their purported radicalism is just a cocktail-party affectation they've some how managed to turn into a career (exhibit #7,488,932 that this ain't no meritocracy).

      Incidentally, I don't think I agree with Ali that there's no such thing as Islamophobia. She's obviously right that there's an important difference between disagreeing or disliking the tenets of a religion and disliking someone because of their ethnicity or something else they can't change. But I'm not sure that distinction always applies to particular people who dislike Muslims (although it does look like a masterstroke of subtlety and clear-sightedness next to Lewis). It's clear that people like Michelle Malkin aren't objecting to the authoritarian aspects of Islam (even if they do occasionally remember to claim otherwise), and epithets like "towelhead" combine ethnic and religious aspects of identity. More generally, I think it's fairly obvious that many people dislike or distrust Islam more because it seems especially foreign than because they've read through the Qur'an and Hadith and have been shocked by what they found there.

      In any case, I'll give the final word to my friend Kaveh, who passed along this link (and who (ahem) should really be blogging himself):

      I'm at once impressed by Ali and disgusted by the idiotic questions posed by Lewis. His comparisons between the shooting of abortion doctors by some lunatic fringe in the US and state-sanctioned gender-apartheid in the Muslim world, or between the Bush v. Gore debacle and the theocratic dictatorships in the middle-east so perfectly capture all that is wrong with the Western left. Her last line about the luxury that comes with growing up in freedom is the perfect reply.

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      To censure or not to censure

      By Edward Copeland

      Sen. Russ Feingold has resurrected his censure idea against Dubya and various co-conspirators within his administration and once again I'm torn. Do they deserve censure? Yes. Do the deserve impeachment? Absolutely. Should it be pursued? I'm not so sure. I actually found myself agreeing with David Brooks on Meet the Press yesterday when he said that there are as many as 30 Republicans in the Senate on the verge of breaking on Iraq for good and to turn the debate into one on censure or impeachment would only serve to have them running back toward party unity instead of away from it.

      Feingold proposes two measures:

      The first would seek to reprimand Bush for, as Feingold described it, getting the nation into war without adequate military preparation and for issuing misleading public statements. The resolution also would cite Vice President Dick Cheney and perhaps other administration officials.

      The second measure would seek to censure Bush for what the Democrat called a continuous assault against the rule of law through such efforts as the warrantless surveillance program against suspected terrorists, Feingold said. It would also ask for a reprimand of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and maybe others.

      While Dubya, Darth Cheney and the gang certainly deserve punishment, I think our priority must be ending this war and not allowing distractions to further delay this more than it will already be delayed just because of the massive logistics involved in such a redeployment. Certainly, I question whether the wavering Republicans will ever put their votes where their mouths are, but I have to believe it's more likely if it's seen as both parties and the country uniting against an intransigent presidency than if it becomes a blatantly partisan fight over punishing his misdeeds.

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      Turkish ruling party gains in votes, declines in seats

      By AviShalom

      In parliamentary elections Sunday, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won with a much improved share of the vote compared to 2002: around 47%, which is the highest share for a Turkish party in over forty years. (News sources: The Guardian and the BBC.)

      This near-majority of the vote compares woith only 34.2% in 2002.

      However, the AKP has actually lost seats, and will now have 340 (61.8%). In 2002, it won 363, which put it at 66% of the total and only four seats short of the two thirds needed to elect a president. (It was the failure of parliament to elect a president that triggered this election's being called a few months early.)

      Two secular parties collectively performed much better in 2007 than in 2002, combining for 183 seats, based on current estimates: Republican People's Party (112 seats, compared to 178 in 2002) and the Nationalist Action Party (71, up from 0). Independents appear to have won 27.

      Of course, the AKP's seat decline despite large vote gain is entirely attributable to the better coordination of the secular parties and independent candidacies. In 2002, only the AKP and the Republican People's Party won any seats, aside from independents (of which there were only 9).

      Turkey uses a districted list "PR" system with a 10% threshold. I put "PR" (proportional representation) in quotation marks, because many of the districts elect few seats (more seats per district-->more proportional result) and thus regional vote patterns can greatly distort the relationship of seats to national vote totals. More importantly, the threshold for a party to win a seat is applied nationally, despite the otherwise regional process of allocating seats. In Turkey, even if a party is the largest party in a given district, it will win no seats at all if it did not have 10% of the total aggregate national vote. (It is the only electoral system of its kind that I know of, and its design is of dubious democratic standards.)

      Despite the setback in parliament, the far more significant result of this election is that it reveals that the AKP was well served by the confrontations over attempting to elect a president and the struggles over Islamism (represented, in moderate form, by the AKP) and economic liberalism (also represented by the AKP) against its more secular but also nationalist opposition. And it suggests a likely affirmative answer to my question as to whether the party could win a national majority in a direct presidential election. The referendum on the constitutional amendments that would establish direct election was recently cleared by the Constitutional Court and is due in October.

      (Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

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      I am the law and the law is secret

      By Capt. Fogg

      I wrote the other day about Bush's directive giving himself nearly unlimited dictatorial powers following an "emergency" but now it seems that my horror was not at all excessive because there is a section of that directive the administration deems too secret for anyone to see: even if you are a US Congressman on the Homeland Security Committee with the power and duty to see it.

      "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right,'' said Congressman Peter DeFazio . D-Oregon after his request to examine the classified sections of the May 9th Presidential Directive.

      Imagine a president writing law under an authority he grants himself. Imagine that the law gives him unlimited power when he decides and for as long as he decides and imagine that the lawmaking branch of government is forbidden to see it. No, don't imagine it, it's true.

      Will these last two months be seen by future historians as the turning point; the cliff American Democracy fell over, the beginning of an American Dictatorship? Who can call this conjecture irresponsible in light of a President's declaration by fiat that he has the power to be an absolute ruler when he decides it's necessary, that he can destroy anyone who gets in the way and now that we can't even have an elected representative inspect the documents?

      Now what is the difference between a president with unlimited power that may not be challenged and may not even be examined and a dictator?

      (Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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      Betting on a change

      By J. Kingston Pierce

      As eight Democratic presidential candidates prepare for their first “official” televised debate tonight, this time from South Carolina and fielding questions submitted by the public via homemade video, there’s another bad omen for Republican’ts and another sure sign that Americans want their country to go in a different direction. The Wall Street Journal reports that

      With more than a year to go before the 2008 elections, Democratic candidates have raised $100 million more in campaign contributions than Republicans, putting them on track to win the money race for the White House and Congress for the first time since the government began detailed accounting of campaign fund raising three decades ago.

      Democrats have taken the lead by exploiting widespread disapproval of President Bush and the Iraq war to develop a more robust online network of new, small donors, as well as to gain traction with deep-pocketed business contributors.

      If their fund-raising advantage continues--so far, Democrats have been pulling in about 58% of overall donations to federal-office seekers--they will have more resources for pricey advertising, organization building and voter outreach next November to buttress their edge in the polls. Moreover, Democrats’ focus on small donors leaves them room to raise more cash over the next year, since many contributors have yet to hit the legal limit of $2,300 per candidate per election, and could potentially keep giving.

      The Journal adds that “So far in the 2008 campaign, Democratic candidates for the White House and Congress, along with the Democratic National Committee and other party committees, have raised a total of $388.8 million, compared with $287.3 million for Republicans, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The figures include reports filed Friday by the House and Senate party committees for fund raising through June 30.

      “Should that gap persist through the end of next year, it would be the first time in the 30-year history of the FEC that Democrats outraised Republicans overall in federal elections, says FEC spokesman Bob Biersack.”

      READ MORE:Poll Shows Clinton with Solid Lead Among Democrats,” by Don Balz and Jon Cohen (The Washington Post); “Officially the First, Democrats’ Debate Feels Like Anything But,” by Anne E. Kornblut (The Washington Post).

      (Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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