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February, 2007

Monday, February 26, 2007

Seen Any Bees Lately?

One of my friends here is a beekeeper. And a few years ago, he told me that his bees had started disappearing. Each year since then, it's gotten worse: fewer hives, fewer bees in the ones that are still active, and, not surprisingly, less and less honey.

According to this article in the IHT, beekeepers in 22 states are facing the same problem this year, only more dramatic and more sudden. Of course, bees are the primary agents of pollenation for the plant world. So when you haven't got any bees, what you've got is problems. Pretty freakin' scary.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Props To... No, I Can't Say It

There are a lot of means available to state governments to break through the inertia that can sometimes develop in Washington. One of them is simply to take action. That's what California, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico and Arizona have done to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The Western Regional Climate Action Initiative requires the five states to define an emissions target within the next six months. They will then develop a market-based approach, to be announced over the next 18 months, to meet the target.

I'm not enough of an expert on this kind of stuff to know whether they've chosen an effective strategy. (Any readers with expertise, feel free to weigh in in the comments.) But it's nice to see some policy initiatives being driven from the state level. It's one of the advantages of a Federal system like our own. All it takes is a governor willing to flex some muscle.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   The Natural World   

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Moqtada Blackout

Interesting. You'd think that Moqtada al-Sadr withdrawing his support for the Surge would be front page news. But while all the major American dailes carried the story, it took some digging to find it. Could it be that it's actually a non-story?

The NY Times had this to say:

Members of another major Shiite group, the political bloc loyal to the anti-American cleric Moktada Al-Sadr, sought to clarify the cleric’s stance on the new security plan today, declaring that Mr. Sadr still supported the plan, despite a statement attributed to him on Sunday saying that the effort to pacify Baghdad was doomed to failure because it relied on American troops.

Saleh al-Ugaili, a member of parliament spokesman for Mr. Sadr’s political movement, said the statement was meant to emphasize a need for more Iraqi control.

Like I said. Interesting.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Open Thread

It'll probably be a little light on posts this week, as I'll be helping a friend build a guest cottage. I'll try to take some pictures. In the meantime, if you see anything interesting, link to it in the comments.

Posted by Judah in:  Open Thread   

Comments (3) | Permalink



Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Hillary Show

If you haven't seen this already, take a look: An anti-Hillary website called Stop Her Now dot Com, complete with flash videos of "The Hillary Show", where Hillary's the host and Howard Dean's the Ed McMahon sidekick. There's an episode with John Kerry as the guest, and another with Nancy Pelosi, that are actually kind of funny, in the way that something that's not very funny can sometimes be.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   Politics   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bad Day In Baghdad

According to the AFP, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has fallen ill and been taken to Jordan for further tests. The cause is apparently work-related exhaustion. Talabani has won praise for championing unity and working towards reconciling Iraq's various interest groups. It would be a shame to see him sidelined, especially now.

The same article describes a letter from Moqtada al-Sadr that was read outloud in Baghdad, calling for Iraqi forces to stop cooperating with "the occupiers." That would be us, for everyone keeping score at home.

Update: Le Monde has a longer excerpt from Moqtada's letter read out loud in Baghdad today than the English-language AFP story. Translated, it continues:

"The security plan under the command of our enemy holds nothing good for Iraqis... Stay away from them, make your plan an independent, Iraqi plan, not a dictatorial and sectarian plan."

Now, I'm admittedly reading quite a bit into this, but "Stay away from them" sounds like a heads up to me. Kind of like telling them to get out of the line of fire. Could Moqtada be giving his guys the green light to start targeting the Surge?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fifteen Minutes Of Fameyness

From The Secret Life Of Cory Kennedy:

Put it this way: By the time Cory Kennedy's mother realized that her child had become, in the words of Gawker.com, an "Internet It Girl," the Web was riddled with photos of Cory posing, eating, dancing, shopping, romping at the beach, looking pensive and French-kissing one of the (adult) members of the rock band the Kings of Leon. She had European fan sites. She had thousands of people signing on to her MySpace pages. She had fashion bloggers dissecting her wardrobe ("a cross between the Little Match Girl and the quintessence of heroin chic," one wag called her taste in fashion). She had people watchers from the Netherlands to Japan speculating about her life story. (Was she a junkie? A refugee from Hyannis Port?) She had designers begging her to wear their clothes and deejays offering her money to show up at their nightclubs. She had invitations to party with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

She was living, in short, a teenager's dream and a parent's version of "Fear Factor." And the obvious questions—at least for her mother—were, "What happened? And how?"

All of which can only lead to this, of course:

We are in Cory Kennedy's bedroom. Present are Cory, Hunter, this reporter and Nate Van Dusen, a filmmaker who is featuring Cory in a new documentary. It's one of those media-age moments: a documentarian filming a photographer shooting a journalist interviewing a teenager.

I imagine the biopic is already in the works. Starring Lindsay Lohan, I'd guess. If she's not in rehab when shooting starts, that is.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   Say What?   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The World Is Your (Tainted) Oyster

We've already heard alot about the Hollywood blockbuster apsects of global warming: Rising ocean levels, flooded coastal regions, hurricanes, droughts, etc. Now here's an LA Times article on the impact of climate change on the spread of disease, and it ain't pretty: The spread of marine bacteria into previously frigid waters; disease-bearing ticks and mosquitoes migrating further north and into highlands; allergy-provoking weeds thriving and producing more pollen.

I'd kind of made my peace with spending Christmas vacations on the beach in Nebraska. But if all I'll be doing is sneezing, I'm not so sure anymore.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Virtuosity, Yes. But Whose?

I'm a little late catching up to this one, I know, but it's a pretty fascinating story of musical plagiarism and fraud. Unlike some of the more comical examples of critics being conned by artists or their own pretensions (award-winning paintings discovered hanging upside down, for instance), the recordings in this case apparently deserved all the praise they got. They just weren't recorded by the person who took credit for them. Give it a read. It's worth it.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Attitude Census

Here's a great little slide show from the Times: 18 graphs that give a snapshot of Americans' social attitudes over the last 35 years. It's gleaned from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago's General Social Survey, which has been conducted annually or bi-annually since 1972.

So let's see how well you know your fellow Americans. What percentage of those surveyed:

  1. Think that generally speaking, people can be trusted?
  2. Find life, in general, exciting?
  3. Believe that men are more suited to politics than women?
  4. Support legal abortion for any reason?
  5. Would say they belong to the upper class? 

Give your answers in the comments before you click through, without any subsequent spoilers for those who follow. Extra credit if you can say whether the trend has risen, fallen or stayed constant over time.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Are You Scared Yet?

There's been a lot of chatter over the last few days about Israel seeking (and by some reports receiving) overflight clearance for a hypothetical airstrike against Iran, although the Israeli Deputy Defense Minister has denied the reports. At the same time, alleged contingency plans for an American aerial campaign against Iran have been leaked to the British press and now to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, although the Pentagon claims there's nothing unusual about them, since they maintain and revise contingency plans for dozens of potential conflicts at any given time.

Now these reports might very well be true, although that's far from certain. What's clear, though, is that the psy ops campaign designed to convince Tehran that time is running out for them to freeze and eventually abandon their uranium enrichment program has just cranked up a notch.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   Media Coverage   

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Start Spreading The News

Regular reader and frequent commenter GS has a Letter To The Editor published in today's NY Times. A short but sweet ode to the greatest city on Earth. I'll give you a hint: It ain't New London.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Even More War Powers

A few more thoughts about the Bush administration's reasoning for why the 2002 Iraq War Authorization Act still applies, which now hangs on the clause that calls for the enforcement of "...all relevant UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that it's reasonable to interpret that clause as referring to resolutions passed after the invasion, as the White House is suggesting. We're now talking about the series of resolutions passed to legitimize the war ex post facto, since the pre-War resolutions had, by most accounts, not done so. A series of resolutions, you'll recall, that was demanded by the UN and opponents of the war before they'd participate in Iraqi reconstruction.

The administration's argument, then, is that the War Authorization Act still applies because we're enforcing UN resolutions that were passed after the actual war, to make up for the absence of the UN resolutions initially demanded by the War Authorization Act as a condition for the war.

But even setting aside the logical incoherence of that argument, a quick glance at the post-War resolutions shows that only the first two, Resolution 1483 and Resolution 1511, identify the Multi-National Force as an occupying power with the resulting legal obligations to guarantee Iraq's security and territorial integrity.

Beginning with Resolution 1546, which recognized the sovereignty of the Iraqi Interim Government, and continuing through Resolution 1723, which recognized the formation of the Iraqi Unity Government, the Multi-National Force's mandate is a function of the attached formal requests by the Iraqi government for its presence. The resolutions themselves simply serve to recognize the legitimacy of those requests.

The Bush administration has got nothing but smoke and mirrors here. Which won't necessarily stop them, seeing as they've gone to war on less. But I'm guessing they'll have to fall back on procedural tactics again to shoot down a repeal. After that, wherever public opinion comes down should go a long way to clarifying how soon it will be before we withdraw from Iraq.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

What Kind Of Crossroads?

Something else that jumped out at me about Obama's Austin speech, which I'm assuming is a variation of what's becoming his standard stump speech. He starts off by saying that America is at a crossroads. Then towards the end, to illustrate what he means by the audacity of hope, he runs off a litany of turning points in American history, where small movements defied the common wisdom of the day to transform both the country and its destiny:

  • The defeat of the British Empire in the Revolutionary War;
  • The experiment in democracy;
  • The abolition of slavery;
  • The women's suffrage movement;
  • The organization of labor;
  • The Civil Rights movement.

A litany that he wraps up with, "And that's the moment that we're in today."

Which is a pretty striking claim to make. Especially considering that the meat of the speech that precedes it is largely a gloss on health care and education, with a lingering emphasis on the War in Iraq. About the most radical proposal he tosses out is a new way of doing politics, which ends up being... unity and consensus. In other words, the very qualities critics so often used to argue against the movements he cites.

If you ask me, there's a significant disconnect here, and as it stands, something's got to give: Either he tones the speech down, or tones the policy up. Count me as one of the cynics, but I've got a nagging suspicion it'll be a couple notches down on the rhetoric.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

More War Powers

Reading through the 2002 Iraq War Authorization Act again, there's also this:  A requirement for a Presidential determination that,

...acting pursuant to this resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorists attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. 

I'm not a constitutional scholar, or a legislative specialist, so I don't know whether this is further grounds to repeal the act. But it seems like a pretty strong argument could be made that this has not been the case.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nothing To Apologize For

I'm listening to the speech Barack Obama gave in Austin. And while it's true that he got in a few zingers at Dick Cheney's expense, he also dropped this in:

And most of all, people around the country are asking themselves why we are still in a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged. Austin, I am proud of the fact that way back in 2002, I said that this war was a mistake...

Lumping in authorizing the war with waging it. Wonder who he's trying to distinguish himself from there?

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Read It And Weep

In yesterday's White House press briefing, spokesman Tony Fratto staked out the Bush administration's position regarding any Democratic attempt to replace the 2002 Iraq War Authorization Act with a more strictly defined, updated mission. And needless to say, it's a doozy.

According to Fratto, even though the ongoing American military presence is no longer necessary to meet the Act's first goal, ie. to "...defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq...", it is still necessary to meet the second, ie. to "...enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq..."

Not the pre-War Security Council Resolutions calling for disarming Iraq and allowing weapons inspections, mind you. The post-War resolutions defining the Multi-National Force's mandate to secure and stabilize Iraq.

Either way, it's strikes me as the height of irony, or else the height of cynicism, or both, to see the Bush administration finally find a use for the United Nations.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Disempowering Terrorism

I noticed the headlines last week about the Friendship Express rail bombing in northern India, and I vaguely registered the Indian and Pakistani governments' reaction to it. But it wasn't until this morning that it occured to me what a remarkable story this really is.

Both India and Pakistan recognized that the bombing targeted the peace process between the two nations as much as the civilian victims of the attack. They responded by not only jointly condemning the violence, but by announcing an agreement that limits the risk of accidental nuclear war between them. They also called for renewed cooperation in rooting out the extremist gorups responsible for the violence.

It's important to hold governments accountable for their efforts, or lack thereof, to control terrorists operating from within their borders. And India didn't shy away from complaining, albeit delicately, about Pakistan's lackluster performance. But when negotiations are conditioned on the total eradication of terrorist attacks, it allows extremists of all stripes to exert a disproportionate influence on the peace process.

India and Pakistan didn't allow that to happen. Hopefully other countries whose efforts towards peace have been derailed by the violence of a relative few will take notice.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   International Relations   

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Death Of A Champion

I always hated Dennis Johnson. Which was only natural, seeing as I was a Knicks fan and he was the Boston Celtics point guard. But still, there was something a little maddening about the way he always seemed to nail the clutch jumper, seal off the crucial defensive stop, and most importantly make the right decisions that meant that more often than not, Ray Williams or Bernard King might finish the game with a half-century, but the Celtics walked away with the "W".

DJ collapsed yesterday after a practice for the NBA development team he coached in Austin, TX. He was pronounced dead not long thereafter. He was only 52, survived by his wife and three kids.

Funny, now that I think about it, I always liked Dennis Johnson. I just wished he played for the Knicks.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Clinton's Speech No Impediment

Let's say someone asked you how much Bill Clinton made last year on the speech circuit? How much would you guess? Leave it in the comments, and then click through to this article and see if you're right.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   Politics   Odds & Ends   

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Talking To Tehran

One of the problems with the Bush administration's stance towards Iran is that they've set it up so that the simple act of sitting down around a negotiating table becomes tantamount to defeat. Which is too bad because, if you read Ray Tayekh's article in the March issue of Foreign Affairs, it seems as if there are some very real, very attractive advantages to a détente policy towards Iran.

The Soviet Union posed more of an existential threat to America than Iran ever could, and yet we had diplomatic relations and ongoing negotiations with them throughout the Cold War. Nixon's diplomatic overture to China serves as another example of the stabilizing effects that dialogue can have even in the absence of any fundamental agreements.

Not every strategic rival is an enemy. And not every negotiated settlement is the Munich Agreement. The regional interests of the US and Iran converge in a number of areas. Reinforcing cooperation where they do can provide the leverage for inluencing behavior where they don't. But first you've got to agree to talk.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Working On The Cheney Gang

Three weeks ago I outlined why impeaching Dick Cheney would be a better way for Congressional Democrats to pull in the reins on the Bush administration than impeaching Bush himself. To begin with, Cheney is more politically vulnerable than the President. Removing him would eliminate the most bellicose and ruthless member of the administration, leaving Bush politically isolated. And it would dramatically raise the stakes of an eventual Presidential impeachment by putting Speaker Pelosi next in line for the Presidency. Of course, that still leaves the trifling question of a legal pretext.

Luckily, the March issue of GQ Magazine has now gone to the trouble of actually drafting the Articles of Impeachment against him. They nail him for everything from ginning up the pre-War intelligence, to promoting Halliburton's interests over those of the country, to obstructing justice by defying court orders and Congessional subpoenas to divulge the members of his Energy Task Force.

But most importantly, they point out the fact that, as Gerald Ford once said while still a Congressman:

...the only real definition of an “impeachable offense” is “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

These guys have been running roughshod over the Constitution from the minute they started contesting the Florida recount in November 2000. Since then, it's been one game of political brinksmanship after another. So if it takes trumped up charges to take them down, I say, Trump up the charges and impeach the bastards. Just start with Cheney.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Chauncey Photographer

Modern art, or perhaps more precisely, modern artists, make a pretty easy target. Especially in the post-Warhol era, when so much of what seems to make an artist important is the degree of unabashed self-promotion that goes into their work. So I'm willing to take it with a grain of salt, but still, it was satisfying to see the New Statesman give Gilbert & George, whose work always made me think of the Peter Sellers character from "Being There", a serious smackdown.

If you really have to build a career out of photographing yourself, at least make it entertaining, like Cindy Sherman, or even annoying, like Nan Goldin. But just plain old boring? Blech.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

What Took Us So Long?

According to eyewitnesses cited in this post on Iraq Slogger, the Baghdad security plan is having a noticeable effect on conditions on the ground. The body count at the city morgue dropped from 300 per week to 50. Foot soldiers of the Mahdi Army, the Sadrist militia, are being targeted enough to no longer feel comfortable patrolling Shiite neighborhoods with their assault rifles visible. And government vehicles are no longer being used for personal, or even sectarian, use.

Why it took us four years to get around to such basic security issues is a question that no one seems to be making the White House address. They should.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blond, James Blond

If there weren't so many lives at stake, the whole US-Iran showdown would make for great comedy. Take this article in the Guardian describing how a lot of the intelligence the CIA has supplied to the IAEA to help it inspect Iran's nuclear facilities has turned out to be false. Like the list of sites that, when visited, showed no signs of banned nuclear-related activities. Or the laptop computer containing plans for a nuclear weapon, supposedly stolen by a CIA informant inside Iran. As an IAEA official put it:

"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."

But it's not just the Americans who come off looking like the Keystone Kops. The IAEA is still waiting for a satisfactory explanation for how and why Iran procured a 15-page document on how to manufacture hemispheres of enriched uranium, whose only known use is in nuclear warheads. A document that the Iranians apparently turned over to the IAEA by mistake along with a stack of other paperwork.

Pretty amateurish for the build up to a major regional conflagration, if you ask me.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   Iran   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Another Dirty Little War

With all the attention-grabbing headlines out of Iraq, it's easy to forget the other civil war that the United States is involved in, this one much closer to home: Colombia. Under the auspices of the cocaine eradication program, Plan Colombia, the Bush administration has funneled $3 billion to the government of President Alvaro Uribe since 2000. At least part of that money has gone to fighting the FARC and other leftist guerillas that are linked to drug-trafficking as a means of financing their insurgencies. In the meantime, critics have claimed, Uribe has shown much more leniency to rightwing militias, many of whom are also involved in the drug trade.

Of course, that could be because his government has very close ties to those militias. The kind of ties that have gotten nine members of his governing coalition arrested. The latest is Jorge Noguera, former head of the secret police, who's been charged with supplying a right-wing militia with the names of union activists and human rights workers, a number of whom later turned up dead.

I suppose it could be worse. At least they're getting arrested this time around.

Posted by Judah in:  Las Americas   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lock And Load (And Cross Your Fingers)

I remember reading in James Gibson's "The Perfect War: Technowar In Vietnam" that as far back as that conflict, the M16 was notorious for being a lightweight and accurate rifle that jammed and failed often. Apparently, the same is true for the M4 rifle which was introduced in the early Nineties.

Which is why starting in 2002, members of an elite Special Forces unit teamed up with a German light arms manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, to design and field test a combat assault rifle, the H&K 416, that has proven to be significantly more reliable than either the M4 or the M16 while remaining cost competitive. It's been production-ready since 2004, and the Delta Force members fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are already outfitted with them.

But the Army has ruled out issuing them to the general infantry, citing the cost -- $1 billion -- of  replacing the entire fleet of M16's and M4's as prohibitive. And they've ordered 100,000 more M4's for 2008, even though a 2001 Special Operations Command study found that it suffered from an "obsolete operating system," and a 2006 Army reliability test found that brand new, off the shelf M4's & M16's misfired every 5,000 rounds in laboratory conditions, compared to every 15,000 rounds for the H&K 416.

So the next time the GOP talks about supporting our troops, someone might mention that a good place to start would be with rifles that actually fire when you pull the trigger.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Try Getting A First Life

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Early adapters of Second Life, the online virtual world, are starting to wish for the good old days before real-world corporations like Adidas and American Apparel opened up "in-world" virtual shops and Nissan started giving away "in-world" virtual cars.

So much so that a group of players has formed what it calls the Second Life Liberation Army. Last year they gunned down avatars that frequented the offending stores. Recently they blew up two nuclear devices, the first outside of American Apparel, the second in front of the Reeboks outlet. Their demands? Voting rights for issues effecting their "in-world" experience.

The problems don't end with corporations, though. With the steady growth of Second Life, the "in-world" has become overrun by trend-followers, losing its original utopian edge. Consider the case of Catherine Fitzpatrick, 50, who joined Second Life "...to explore her creative side and meet like-minded people...":

She built a nice home for herself with an ocean view, which she said was ruined when someone moved in next door and built a giant refrigerator that blocked her light.

Of course, we've all had the experience of a favorite underground club or local watering hole get written up in New York magazine, with the change in atmosphere that follows. But getting blocked out by a giant refrigerator? Now that's a dis.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Snow Job

I recommend giving this Dana Milbank piece about a National Press Club panel discussion a read. The panel consisted of Tony Snow and six members of the White House press corps. And it sheds a little light on what goes on behind the scenes: the personalities, the relationships, the camaraderie. As a news consumer, it's important to remember how much this stuff influences what ends up in the headlines.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

Comments (1) | Permalink



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can't Lose For Winning

You've got to hand it to these guys. Not only do they come up with whoppers, they do it on the fly like it was no thing. No sooner had Tony Blair announced that he would draw down British troop levels in Southern Iraq (by 1600 out of roughly 7000, with the rest to follow depending on conditions on the ground), than the Bush administration claimed it was a sign that things were going as planned. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, didn't quite see it the same way in an analysis published today:

The British may not have been defeated in a purely military sense, but lost long ago in the political sense if "victory" means securing the southeast for some form of national unity. Soft ethnic cleansing has been going on in Basra for more than two years, and the south has been the scene of the less violent form of civil war for control of political and economic space that is as important as the more openly violent struggles in Anbar and Basra.

As a result, the coming British cuts in many ways reflect the political reality that the British "lost" the south more than a year ago. The Shi'ites will takeover, Iranian influence will probably expand, and more Sunnis, Christians, and other minorities will leave. British action will mean more pressure for federation and separatism, but local power struggles are more likely to be between Shi'ite factions than anything else.

He also had some sobering words for the Surge in Baghdad:

Just as the British confused Basra with a regional center of gravity, the Bush Administration may well have compounded these problems by confusing Baghdad with the center of gravity in a national struggle for the control of political and economic space that affects every part of the country...

Winning security control of the city and losing Iraq’s 11 other major cities and countryside to Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic factions is not victory in any strategic (sic), it is defeat. As has been discussed earlier, the minimal requirement for a successful US strategy is a relatively stable and secure Iraq, not temporary US military control of Baghdad.

So far, however, the US has not shown that it has a clear plan for taking control of Baghdad with the US and Iraqi resources it has available, or described a credible operational plan for moving from “win” to “hold” and “build.” It has completely failed to set forth a strategy and meaningful operational plan for dealing with Iraq as a country even if it succeeds in Baghdad.

He goes on to outline any number of tactics the insurgents could use to respond to the surge, including:

  • Stretching American forces thin across Baghdad to pick off isolated and weak outposts;
  • Carrying out high profile attacks against civilian targets, aid efforts and political leaders;
  • Carrying out high profile attacks on US forces;
  • Taking the fight elsewhere, thereby shifting the center of gravity of the conflict outside of Baghdad.

It seemed like public opinion had already come to terms with losing the war before the Surge. But at that point it had been lost, not to an enemy, but to the uncontrollable chaos and violence of the Iraqi civil war.

What happens if the Surge not only doesn't work, but actually exposes us to significant losses? Will the possibility of actually leaving Iraq as a "defeated" army be enough to restore public support for the war? Or will it, on the contrary, accelerate the calls for withdrawal? And if the goal now has been reduced to leaving Iraq with honor, as Cheney put it recently, will that be further justification for escalating our involvement?

Up until now I didn't really think things could get much worse. I'm not so sure anymore.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When A Delicate Balance Becomes A Double Bind

The WaPo has a story today ostensibly about a group of affluent, educated Black parents and their efforts to keep their middle school-age kids from rejecting academic achievement as something meant for white children. But I couldn't help but read it as a testimonial to just how complex a matrix racial identity has become in contemporary America. Take this paragraph, for instance:

But even with their advantages, these parents say they worry about the images of African American men that their sons absorb from popular media. Carter said he started noticing his son and his friends strutting, letting their pants sag and picking up slang. He became troubled when they started doubting their abilities in advanced math and science.

Now, my reactions upon reading those three sentences started out pretty high on the politically correct meter, steadily worked their way downwards, and then bounced back up a notch or two. So to begin with, I felt outrage, that the hard work of parenting should be subverted by a society's insistance on promoting racial stereotypes for commercial gain.

Then I wondered whether, in 2007, this is a phenomenon limited to black middle class families. In fact, isn't this what American middle class families in general have been dealing with since the days of James Dean and Marlon Brando?

Then I found myself feeling less sympathetic to the kids, who just happened to be adopting behaviors that come along with obvious social advantages within their peer group. Because let's face it. If you're a black nerd trying to navigate a white school at the onset of adolescence, playing up the hip hop angle is a pretty safe bet.

And then it occured to me that if you're a thirteen year-old white nerd, you're just a nerd. But if you're a thirteen year-old black nerd, well, you've got a whole lot of explaining to do. Because given the kind of racial conditioning we get in America, the assumption is that you had a choice. Between the bling and the books. And you opted for the books.

And that's what these parents are trying to do. Get their kids to believe that there's nothing un-Black about opting for the books. But given how much American pop culture has modelled its image of coolness on Black popular culture, it seems like it's a delicate balance they, and we, are asking these kids to strike. A delicate balance that's not at all lost on the kids:

Her son Alden was sometimes the only black student in his class in elementary school, and although he did well, she worried about how comfortable he was. In first grade, he got in trouble for pushing a girl who kept touching his hair. Another time, Carpenter asked Alden what color he was, and he answered, "Dark white."

Of course, when they do buy into the academic system, when they do excel, when they rise in their chosen careers and run for high elected office, aren't these the same kids who, thirty years later, are asked, "Are you Black enough?"

Posted by Judah in:  Race In America   

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I'm With Stoopid

Yes, I'm on record as agreeing that it's stupid for the Presidential candidates to declare two years before the election. But I never said anything about fantastic conjectures about how things may play out two years ahead of the election. So here's a thought that just occured to me.

With the Democratic candidates as a whole looking as strong as any field I can remember, it's conceivable that they reach the Convention without any of them having won enough delegates to clinch the nomination. In other words, an old-school, smoke-filled room kind of convention that actually decides who the nominee is. Or else, one that doesn't decide a thing, leaving two Democrats in the general election to split the vote and deliver the most winnable White House in decades to the GOP.

Anyone else got any predictions? For the 2008 election, or the 2008 NBA Finals, take your pick.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Knockout Punch

The BBC claims that American contingency plans for an aerial assault on Iran are not limited to the uranium enrichment facilities that are at the heart of recent tensions between Tehran and the West, but instead include most of the Iranian military's command and control infrastructure. They also report that the trigger for any attack would be confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon, but also any high-casualty attack in Iraq that could be directly traceable to Iran.

If true, it confirms my suspicion that the strategy of any intervention will be to absorb the immediate reprisals that Iran may have already prepared (ie. infiltrated networks in Iraq, a Hezbollah attack against Israel) in order to permanently incapacitate the Iranian military.

Of course, the US has denied any immediate intention of going to war. But if it does go down, chances are it'll be a massive bombardment campaign rather than surgical strikes.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   

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Monday, February 19, 2007

They're Back

The New York Times:

As recently as 2005, American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of Al Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks. But more recent intelligence describes the organization’s hierarchy as intact and strengthening.

“The chain of command has been re-established,” said one American government official, who said that the Qaeda “leadership command and control is robust.”

Both al-Qaeda and the United States have diminished strategic capabilities compared to six years ago. The difference being that they've turned the corner and are now getting stronger. And the damage they sustained wasn't self-inflicted.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Shape Of Things To Come?

This article in the Times about a bold, co-ordinated daylight attack on a US outpost north of Baghdad is troubling , because it describes a sophisticated insurgency that's capable of picking off isolated American units and inflicting heavy casualties (2 dead, 17 wounded). Casualties that could have been considerably higher given that four helicopters were flown in to evacuate American wounded while the firefight was still going on.

Remember that the Surge plan for Baghdad calls for not just sweeping the city, but quartering American troops outside the fortified Green Zone in neighborhood outposts. Which makes them particularly vulnerable to this kind of attack.

Up to now I'd been basing my reaction to the troop escalation in Baghdad on two assumptions. One, that it would have a short-term impact on that city's level of violence by displacing attacks to other areas of the country. Two, that whatever violence continued in Baghdad would not be directed at American troops.

Now it looks like the Sunnis have decided to take the fight elsewhere while continuing to blow up civilians in Baghdad. And if that continues, it's a safe bet the Shiites won't be laying low for long. Add in an insurgency that's shown it's willing and able to inflict damage in well-coordinated conventional attacks, and it looks like a volatile mix just got even more volatile.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, February 19, 2007

When Bigger Is Not Better

If you want a metaphor for the challenges facing further European political integration, look no further than the Airbus A380. Airbus is the pan-European manufacturing arm of EADS (the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company), with facilities in France, Germany, Spain and England. It's the object of no small amount of European pride, and its rivalry with Boeing is something of a spectator sport over here.

Billed as the largest passenger airplane ever built, the A380 was destined to be the feather in Airbus' increasingly decorated cap. Its initial test-flights in late 2005 and 2006 impressed, and orders streamed in, eventually totalling 166 airplanes (pretty healthy sales for a $300 million bird). Major buyers include Emirates Airlines (43), Lufthansa (15), Qantas (20), and even UPS, which contracted to buy 10 units of the freight model.

In the meantime, in June 2005, before the plane was even test-flown, Airbus announced a six-month production delay. This was followed by another six-month delay announced in June 2006, followed by another delay accompanied by a delivery shedule re-structuring announced in October 2006.

The cause of the problem was ostensibly the cabin wiring, but insiders blamed a power struggle between German and French management factions resulting in poor communication throughout the company.

Now, with production delays of two years, orders in limbo, $6.6 billion in lost projected revenue, and stock value having taken a hit, EADS was supposed to announce a re-structuring plan to cut 10,000 jobs (20% of their workforce) tomorrow. An announcement which was postponed because none of the four countries involved can agree on where to make the cuts.

Which is why if you're waiting to see what an integrated EU foreign policy would look like, or a non-NATO European military force, I've got one piece of advice for you: Don't hold your breath.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Markets & Finance   

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Monday, February 19, 2007

What A Difference Forty Years Makes

With all the comparisons being made between Iraq and Vietnam, it's interesting to note one major difference in progressive opposition to the two wars. Unlike with the Vietnam War, opposition to the Iraq War is almost never expressed in pacifist terms. Critics take pains to point out that they're not anti-war, they're just anti-this-war. Then there's the oft-leveled criticism of the diversion of troops and resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, a criticism that implicitly accepts the necessity of the War in Afghanistan.

Of course, it's not surprising. The 1960's anti-war movement was conditioned by the pacifism of the civil rights movement that preceded it. A pacificism that became something of a knee-jerk reaction for the progressive left throughout the two decades that followed.

Already, a number of events during the Nineties would begin to change all that. The Yugoslavian wars, for instance, and in particular the ethnic cleansing that accompanied them, where isolated voices on the left argued in favor of armed intervention. Then there was the horror and shame that came from America's failure to intervene in Rwanda. By the end of the decade, although its instinct was still to consider military intervention a last option, the American left was no longer so monolithically pacifist.

Now, in the aftermath of September 11, pacifists seem like an endangered species. The only difference being, you still read about the spotted owl every now and then.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iraq   

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Obama's Young Idealists

There's been alot of coverage lately of Barack Obama's appeal among young voters, who have used Facebook and other online social networking tools to organize themselves in unprecedented numbers and with surprising speed. (Almost 280,000 members of one online group within a month of its formation.) And it occured to me that this might pose some problems for him down the line.

Why? Well, he's building his campaign on a rhetoric of hope and a new way of doing politics. Both of which usually refer to progressive/radical policies, and both of which tend to attract either older idealists who have been disillusioned with the political process (I'd throw myself in that category), or younger ones not yet familiar with it. And I think what we're seeing here is obviously an example of the latter.

Only trouble is, Obama's new way of doing politics, ie. consensus-building, tends to result in relatively risk-averse policy. Which, so far, is what I've seen from him. (I don't think his Iraq plan, given the current political climate, qualifies as anything earth-shattering.) So what's going to happen to the kids when they realize that Obama is not the crusading progressive his preacher cadences make him out to be?

My hunch is he's positioning himself in relation to Clinton and Edwards. But it's Kucinich who stands to steal his thunder.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Surging Into The Abyss

From Foreign Affairs:

Even if the coming "surge" in U.S. combat troops manages to lower the rate of killing in Baghdad, very little in relevant historical experience or the facts of this case suggests that U.S. troops would not be stuck in Iraq for decades, keeping sectarian and factional power struggles at bay while fending off jihadist and nationalist attacks. The more likely scenario is that the Bush administration's commitment to the "success" of the Maliki government will make the United States passively complicit in a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing...

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   International Relations   

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Paradigm Shift?

Daniel Byman's got an intriguing op-ed in the WaPo about Iran's strategic interests in Iraq. He uses the example of Hezbollah in Lebanon to argue that Iran's arming of various Iraqi factions (a point which he takes for granted) should be understood more as a means of establishing a post-War influence in Iraqi affairs than as an act of aggression towards the US.  He also pointed out that it wouldn't be unheard of for the Iranians to enter into tactical alliances with Sunni groups if it served their longer-term strategic goals, as their sponsorship of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza demonstrate. But what really caught my eye was this:

Ironically, Iran's long-term position could weaken when the United States draws down its forces. At first, the U.S. withdrawal will expand the power vacuum and Iran will try to fill it, but the limited chaos Iran foments can easily become uncontrolled. Iran's economic and military power is limited, and Iran's theocratic model of governance has little appeal for most Iraqis. Even many Shiite militants have at times been hostile to Iran, and respected moderates such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani are careful to maintain their distance from Tehran. Sunnis already rage against perceived Iranian dominance.

In a postwar environment, Tehran will have lost a lever against U.S. pressure and may find itself both overextended and vulnerable in Iraq -- a weakness that the United States might exploit in years to come.

This is the second time in a few weeks that I've seen someone suggest that the worst-case scenarios of an American withdrawal from Iraq are far from inevitable, and may reflect a failure of imagination as much as anything else. Something tells me it won't be the last.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   Iraq   

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Permanent Campaign

It's not often I find myself in agreement with Newt Gingrich. But here's one time that I do:

“I think the current process of spending an entire year running in order to spend an entire year running in order to get sworn in in January 2009 is stupid,” Gingrich said...

“We live in an age of iPods, cell phones with cameras, blackberries, laptop computers, blogs, television, 24-hour radio. You should be able to have a national campaign make a serious decision for president in nine weeks.”

I don't know about nine weeks. But eighty-nine weeks and $500 million (that's the estimate of what each of the two eventual candidates will have spent between the primaries and general election) seem like a big waste of time, money and energy. Campaigning is a full-time job, and most of the candidates are already on the government payroll, ostensibly to govern. Unfortunately, this trend is probably only going to get worse.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hillary's Dark Prince

One day when I was managing apartments in Euless, TX, just outside of Dallas, this kind-of-hot sales rep came by the office with an offer for some new phone plan. And since she was kind-of-hot, and on a sales call, I said something along the lines of, "Aren't you supposed to wine and dine me to get the account?" Before you knew it, we had a date for after work, and I was feeling pretty smooth.

Until we got to the bar where we were going to have drinks and the first thing she asked me after ordering an iced tea was, "So, are you a Messianic Jew?" Now, in general, there are only two types of people who use the term "Messianic Jew": Messianic Jews, and evangelical Christians. And given that my nickname for Euless was Jewless, it was a pretty sure bet she was the latter. Which made it pretty clear that, wherever else the evening might be headed, there were certain outcomes that could be ruled out.

Well, I managed to contain my urge to find an excuse to leave immediately, and we went on to have a conversation about evangelical Christianity, which I've found is what most evangelical Christians have conversations about. Which was fine, because I can get passionate about evangelical Christianity, in an academic sort of way, especially with a couple of beers in me. So the evening turned out to be pretty enjoyable. Or at least less unenjoyable than I had any right to expect.

Now, this lady was a real, dyed in the wool fundamentalist. The kind who, when I asked her what she would say to the Muslim tenants from the apartment complex I managed, who were just as convinced that Allah was the true name of God as she was that it was Jesus, replied, "That they're wrong."

So when the conversation came around to politics, it came as no surprise that she was a die-hard Dubya fan. Bill Clinton, according to her, was evil. To which I replied that I preferred a Bill Clinton, who you got the sense fell down on his knees every Sunday to beg forgiveness for his failings, to a George Bush, who I picture looking up at the altar with a smirk on his face as he gives thanks for his triumphs. (This was back in 2003, when it still appeared like he'd had some.)

Her response, I think, shows why Hillary Clinton is going to have a tough time come 2008 if she ends up winning the Democratic nomination. "Yes, you might be right," she said. "Bill Clinton was a good Christian. But not Hillary."

And here, in a perfectly unself-conscious gesture, she leaned a bit closer and lowered her voice, before dropping the clincher. "Hillary works for the Prince of Darkness."

Not the Devil. Not Satan. The Prince of Darkness.

Now for all I know, she might be right. After all, her phone plan ended up saving us some dough. But one thing's certain. You can forget about convincing her, and the thousands like her, that they're wrong. And that's a problem.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fill In The Blanks

File this one under "What you don't know might kill you." According to this article in the IHT, American intelligence agencies actually know very little about the Iranian elite unit known as the Quds Force. That's the group that the Bush administration was blaming last week for supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents. 

But the Quds Force is cloaked in secrecy inside Iran and the subject of considerable guesswork from scholars in the United States, who in interviews this week offered estimates of its size ranging from 3,000 to 50,000 men. The true number, along with details of the strength and budget of the entire Revolutionary Guard, is hidden even from Parliament, said Milani, according to legislators he has spoken with.

Some specialists even question whether the Quds Force exists as a formal unit clearly delineated from the rest of the Revolutionary Guard.

You'd think they'd get some of these questions answered before they start tossing accusations around. Let alone invading the place.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Now That's What I Call Helping

Apparently one of the reasons Condie Rice snuck into Baghdad today was to pressure Iraqi PM Maliki to crack down on Sadr City, Moqtada al-Sadr's Baghdad fiefdom, and not just the Sunni neighborhoods that have already been Surged:

...the Iraqi side argued that Sadr has been cooperating with authorities on security issues lately and that the government should not "waste our resources on a place that's stable."

Getting out of town = co-operating. Classic.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Absolute Power Zones

The Times has got this article describing the two years an Iraqi Sunni spent in an American detention facility. Needless to say, it ain't pretty: stun guns, exposure to cold and heat, 24 days in a pitch-black solitary confinement cell.

Now, this is the kind of story that, sadly, I think we've all grown somewhat accustomed to hearing about. Often it's used to condemn America's slow slide into a torture-sponsoring state, and rightly so. But I'd like to put it into a slightly different context.

Because as much as this kind of abuse has to do with official American policy, it also has to with the fundamental danger of creating environments where one or several individuals have absolute, unchecked power over the physical person of another. What I call in the title of this post, Absolute Power Zones.

Whether it's American soldiers abusing detainees in the GWOT, or Russian soldiers forcing younger recruits into male prostitution, or American prisoners raping other prisoners, the common thread is the existence of physical perimeters within which there is no oversight. Where society is either unable or unwilling to restrain the strong and protect the weak. With the result that there is nothing to limit the victimization of the latter by the former.

The abuses that take place within them might originate in the darker regions of human nature. But they are exacerbated by institutions that manipulate, encourage, or overlook them.

State-sponsored torture is just one example of a much wider phenomenon. A particularly egregious example, because of the state's singular responsibilities as holder of the "monopoly of legitimate violence". But as long as we countenance legal black holes of any kind, disavowing state-sanctioned torture won't be enough.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   Iraq   

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Surge's Early Results

One thing it's important to keep in mind over the course of the next few weeks, as the first articles about it (like this one or this one) start appearing, is that in its initial phases the surge in Baghdad is going to have some very positive results. There will be less violence, more visible signs of law & order, and a sense of hope will probably prevail. Bush, I'm sure, will get a bump in the opinion polls, and the Dems will be made to look like party-poopers who'd rather see the plan fail than be wrong about it.

All that's to be expected because it's not in anyone's interest to engage the American and Iraqi forces that are finally, after four years, securing Baghdad. To begin with, most of the violence in Baghdad itself was internecine or sectarian, and had nothing to do with us. Besides that, the Iraqi troops that are taking part in the surge are in many cases simply uniformed wings of the Shiite militias they're supposed to be policing.

But none of that will actually mean that the surge is actually a tactical success. Remember, the Shiites have been waiting a long time for payback. In some cases, like Moqtada al-Sadr's, for generations. Remember, too, that this won't be the first time Moqtada put his guns down. So they can afford to wait some more.

Hell, they might even wait until we eventually do leave Iraq. But then the only thing the surge will have accomplished is to provide some cover for us to save face while we pull up stakes. But that's really all we're fighting for at this point.

Update: Of course, this should come as no surprise either:

Sunni insurgents have been streaming out of Baghdad to escape the security crackdown, carrying the fight to neighboring Diyala province where direct fire attacks on Americans have nearly doubled since last summer, U.S. soldiers say.

So there you have it. The insurgents are doing what insurgents do when counterinsurgents do what counterinsurgents do. That wasn't so hard, now, was it?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Islam Quiz

ABC News just put up a quick 8 question quiz, based on Jeff Stein's Congressional Quarterly article that revealed the levels of ignorance in Congress about which Muslim groups are Sunni, and which Shiite. Click through and see how you do. And leave your results on the Comments page. Once there are enough results in the comments, I'll let you know how I did. Hint: I could be in line for a committee chair.

Via GetReligion 

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Exorcist, M.D.

First it was the pharmacists who wouldn't fill certain prescriptions, in particular birth control and morning after pills, that they disagreed with on religious grounds. Then there was the Washington Post article last week that described how 8% of doctors surveyed said they weren't obligated to present medical options that they disapproved of to patients, while 18% said they weren't obligated to provide referrals for care they found objectionable:

Male doctors and those who described themselves as religious were the most likely to feel that doctors could tell patients about their objections and less likely to believe doctors must present all options or offer a referral.

Now along comes a story about a doctor in Bakersfield, CA who refused to treat a young girl's ear infection because her mother has tattoos:

The writing is on the wall—literally: “This is a private office. Appearance and behavior standards apply.”

For Dr. Gary Merrill of Christian Medical Services, that means no tattoos, body piercings, and a host of other requirements—all standards Merrill has set based upon his Christian faith...

He said if they don’t like his beliefs, they can find another doctor.

According to the American Medical Association, as things stand, he didn't do anything wrong. A doctor is only required to provide life-saving care. Besides that it's his or her call.

2007. Shocking.

Via The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   Odds & Ends   Human Rights   

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The End Of The Bubble

I talked yesterday about how the tactics being applied in Iraq, ie. Clear and Move On, will become America's regional strategy in the event of a war with Iran. All it takes is a look at the ways in which the geo-political landscape has been altered over the past six years to understand why it won't work.

In January 2001, the United States was an often resented, but widely admired and respected superpower wielding a historically unprecedented global influence. Rightly or wrongly, we occupied a perceived position of moral leadership among the global community, which when coupled with our economic, diplomatic and military power made our involvement decisive in every continent.

Russia was too busy shaking down the oligarchs who had made off with all of the Soviet Union's industrial infrastructure and most of the Western world's capital infusion to spend much time on projecting its power abroad. China, while a looming economic giant, seemed fatally compromised by its abysmal human rights record to ever be more than a regional power. Chavez had his hands full holding onto power in Venezuela. And Iran was constrained to the role of regional troublemaker and spoiler in the Middle East.

If America faced a potential threat to its position of global hegemon, it was the prospect of an increasingly integrated and assertive European Union trying to contest it on the international stage.

Fast forward six years to January 2007...

Read the full post>>

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   Iraq   Russia   

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

When The Writing's Done

The act of writing, distilled to its essence, is a jail break. A solitary gesture of defiance, of desperation, of hope. A shaking of the fist at the walls that surround us, or a rueful glance. And always, in the end, an attempt to breach, climb, or tunnel under them. And then sometimes the metaphor becomes real, as is the case with prison literature, and we realize, as readers, the true power of the word. To bear witness. To transcend. To liberate.

Kody Scott, the LA gangbanger known as "Monster", was the latest in a long line of jailhouse writers. Before him there was Jack Henry Abbott, and George Jackson, and Henri 'Papillon' Charrière, and Jean Genet. Men who wrote from within their prison cells, or about them, in the hopes of one day knowing freedom. Or Antonio Gramsci, who kept his meticulous prison journals knowing that he would certainly die behind bars.

Kody Scott's back on the LAPD's Ten Most Wanted list, for a carjacking, or for pissing off William Bratton, depending on who you ask. Last time he was arrested, for parole violations, he said he wouldn't mind heading back to prison, because it would give him some time to write. The tough part, for Scott, for all of us, is when the writing's done.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winning Friends & Influencing People

Ever wonder what China's doing with its $1 trillion-plus foreign exchange reserves? Well, they're using part of the loot, as this article explains, to buy influence with resource-rich countries through generous foreign aid packages. Aid packages that undercut World Bank and other development organizations by offering more money, with less oversight, to countries where public funds have a tendency to end up in Swiss bank accounts. These are the kinds of deals that, if Tony Soprano were arranging them, would be called graft. And as with all graft schemes, the folks who suffer the most are the ones who might otherwise have ended up with a functioning railroad system, or an environmentally-friendly power grid, but instead wind up with nothing at all, if not worse. Oh, and for what it's worth, our trade deficit with China for 2006 was a little over $232 billion. How do you say, "Don't spend it all in one place," in Chinese?

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   China   Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Tactics Are The Strategy

It's hard to get into the heads of the neocon clique that's itching for war with Iran. If the definition of crazy is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, they would certainly seem to qualify. But it would be a mistake to write them off as a bunch of lunatics. These guys are not crazy. They got the result they wanted in Iraq. And they're looking for more of the same in Iran.

The fact is, Iraq is a catastrophe, but it's a manageable catastrophe. The only thing that threatens our continued occupation there is American public opinion. And it's become clear that Americans want to call it a wash and pull up stakes. Which is why attacking Iran has now become essential: in order to create the conditions that make a continued American garrison in the Persian Gulf a necessity.

But what about all the dire warnings we've heard about Iran's capacity for reprisal, through missile strikes on our carriers, through proxies in Iraq, and with the threat Hezbollah poses to Israel? They're overblown. Yes, there will be an initial wave of casualties, perhaps even severe casualties. But it will eventually recede once a massive aerial bombardment campaign deteriorates the Iranian regime's command and control capabilities, as well as their military-industrial infrastructure.

But then what? Between the civil wars in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and potentially Iran, most of the region will be a chaotic, deadly mess. And in that kind of geopolitical climate, the United States will be obligated to maintain a permanent garrison (probably in the order of what we already have stationed in Iraq, with a quick-strike capacity to respond to flashpoints of conflict as they spring up around the region) in order to guarantee the security of our Arab allies and Israel.

Mission accomplished.

The traditional counterinsurgency tactics of Clear, Hold, and Rebuild, as put into practice in Iraq, have become Clear and Move On. It's time to realize that this is no accident. The tactics have become the strategy, and the strategy is about to be widened to a regional level.

More later on why it won't work.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   Iraq   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Enemy's Enemy?

Here's some breaking news that should give us pause. According to the Guardian, a terrorist attack in southeastern Iran that killed 11 Revolutionary Guard members is being blamed on a Sunni terrorist outfit linked to al-Qaeda.

Any way you parse this, you end up with the Bush administration being full of crap. Why? Well, for starters, they've spent the last few weeks claiming the Iranians are arming the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. The same Sunni insurgency that they've repeatedly claimed is a branch of al-Qaeda. The same al-Qaeda that they've repeatedly claimed is an operationally integrated organization.

Now obviously, all three of these claims can't logically co-exist with one another. At least not back here in the real world. I'm curious to see which one they're willing to cut loose.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Iran   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No More Mr. Bad Guy

You know the story about the ruthless terrorists who've gotten their hands on a rusting nuclear warhead that the Russians have lost track of? You know. They made a movie about it. Every three months. For the past fifteen years.

Well, it looks like Hollywood's going to have to update its plot templates. From a rundown of Russia's program to renovate its Army:

As for long-term prospects, the 2007-2015 State Armament Program, due to receive almost 5,000 billion rubles ($188.68 billion, or Euro 145.35 billion), stipulates for a complete re-equipment of Russia's strategic nuclear forces. The Defense Ministry plans to commission 34 silo-based missile launchers and command centers and 66 mobile Topol-M ICBM systems, as well as to increase the number of strategic bombers.

Betting pool for Hollywood's next generic villain now open. I say North Korea, with Venezuela as a darkhorse.

Posted by Judah in:  Russia   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Guilty Pleasure

Sorry, I can't help myself. A website for evangelical young adults called The Rebelution recently conducted a Modesty Survey to let Christian girls know how Christian men of all ages think they should be dressing. Some sample questions (in traditional five-point agree-disagree format)?

  • You have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one.
  • The lines of undergarments, visible under clothing, cause guys to stumble.
  • Seeing a girl take off a pullover (i.e. a shirt that must be pulled over the head) is a stumbling block, even if she is wearing a modest shirt underneath.
  • It is a stumbling block to see a girl lying down, even if she's just hanging out on the floor or on a couch with her friends.
  • Seeing a girl's chest bounce when she is walking or running is a stumbling block.

I could go on, and on, and on, and on, I really could, because there are over a hundred questions, and they're all classics. Like:

  • An ankle-length skirt with a knee-high slit is more modest than a knee-length skirt.

Hmmm. That's actually a tough one. Anyway, here are the results. Better click through quick, though, before I lose control and...

  • Bare feet are not a stumbling block.

...add another one. OK. I'll stop...

  • Bending over so that cleavage is visible down the front of the shirt or dress is a stumbling block.

He-e-e-lp!!!

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   Say What?   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Not Guilty By Reason Of Inhumanity

By all accounts, Jose Padilla was a man who excercised poor judgment in the company he kept. But was he in fact a dangerous terrorist when he was arrested in May 2002, as the Bush administration claims? A lot is riding on the answer to that question, not least of which is Padilla's liberty.

Unfortunately, we may never know, because according to his lawyers, three years and eight months in the Navy brig at Charleston, SC, have rendered him mentally incompetent to stand trial:

The prisoner lived in isolation in a cell with only a steel slab for a bed. At times chained to the floor, he was deprived of light, sleep, a clock and heat. His interrogators injected him with "truth serum" drugs to try to loosen his tongue and threatened him with execution.

The Bush administration's lawyers (normally I'd say "the government", but in this case I refuse to) disputes the claims, both of mistreatment and of Padilla's incompetence to stand trial. And given the very low bar set for mental incompetence in criminal law, the court's ruling may very well go their way. But it says alot about the steady erosion of their credibility, both in this case and others like it, that Padilla's claims could even be entertained as possible, or worse, likely.

This is not an episode of 24. This is the United States of America. At least it was. I'm not so sure, anymore.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Global War On Terror   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Kobe Who?

So if the Knicks are admittedly a source of embarrassment for anyone who's ever proudly staunched a nosebleed beneath the rafters of Madison Square Garden, what does this make the Lakers?

Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah...

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

When The Mrs. Is A Ms.

The first thing that popped into my head while reading this Times story about bullying male cooks and the women who love them was, Is this the way of life we're fighting two wars to defend? But then I got to this sentence:

Mr. LaVallee loves to cook, and when they were first married, Ms. LaVallee thought that sharing his hobby with him might be fun. (Emphasis mine.)

Now, I know that Ms. was introduced as a means of identifying a woman without reference to her marital status. But in common usage, it was usually adopted when the woman in question's marital status was unknown by the speaker, or when the woman's mature age made it awkward to address her as Miss.

But this is the first time I can remember seeing it used in a context where it's quite obviously a conscious choice, either on the part of the writer or the subject. And in case you're thinking it might have been a typo, the woman was again referred to as Ms. LaVallee two paragraphs down.

I'll put aside for now the politics of a post-post-feminism, where a wife cheerfully accepts being elbowed out of one of the more enjoyable domestic tasks by a domineering husband (three guesses as to who gets clean-up duties), but insists on being addressed as Ms.

Because I'm more interested in the style usage question. Have I just been missing something, or is this a developing trend? Anyone?

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

She Stoops To Conquer?

This from the NY Times:

Fewer than 3 in 10 people ages 17 to 24 are fully qualified to join the Army. That means they have a high school diploma, have met aptitude test score requirements and fitness levels, and would not be barred for medical reasons, their sexual orientation or their criminal histories.

So what's an Army feeling the strain of two wars to do? Why, grant more waivers, of course:

During that time, the Army has employed a variety of tactics to expand its diminishing pool of recruits. It has offered larger enlistment cash bonuses, allowed more high school dropouts and applicants with low scores on its aptitude test to join, and loosened weight and age restrictions.

It has also increased the number of so-called “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal pasts, even as the total number of recruits dropped slightly. The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army’s moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

The number of waivers for felony convictions also increased, to 11 percent of the 8,129 moral waivers granted in 2006, from 8 percent.

Waivers for less serious crimes like traffic offenses and drug use have dropped or remained stable. 

I guess at least the folks driving around Baghdad have something to be thankful for. Which is better than nothing at all, as this video demonstrates.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Say What?   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bayrou & Europe

I remember the tangible feeling, when I moved to France in 2001, of bearing witness to the birth of something new and exciting, something that doesn't come along very often: a new identity. A European identity.

Two events brought it home. The first was the passage to the Euro, when half a continent, transformed into tourists without having left home, discovered a new and common currency, examining each bill for the first time, double checking coins at the cash register, and doing hurried mental conversions to get a sense of how much they'd just spent.

The second was the film, "L'Auberge Espagnol", which told the story of a young French exchange student's year abroad in Madrid, and how, through the friendships he forms with his roommates, all, like him, adrift and far from home, they arrive at a common language to define themselves. And it occured to me, in a way that was somehow very moving, that these twenty-somethings might be the first generation to really think of themselves, not just as French or English or Spanish or German, but as European...

Read the full post>>

Posted by Judah in:  La Presidentielle   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The President Who Cried Wolf

It could be, as some folks are saying, that this weekend's rollout of military intelligence linking Iranian weapons to the Iraqi insurgency is not so much a run-up to war as it is a means of pressuring the Iranians back to the negotiating table. Either way, for some reason or another, no one seems to be taking it very seriously.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two-Track Mind

Both the Bush administration and the EU agree that only a two-track approach will get Iran to negotiate a settlement of the uranium enrichment question; sanctions alone aren't going to cut it. The problem is deciding what the second track should be.

The Europeans think we ought to offer the Iranians incentives, such as a security guarantee, to balance the dis-incentives represented by sanctions. Call it the carrot and the stick approach. The Bush administration thinks we ought to signal the clear threat of military action to let them know that things only get worse from here on out. Call it the stick and the aluminum baseball bat approach.

Of course, threatening a war with Iran is a tricky matter, since we don't really have the force levels for it, and we can't really afford the consequences it would have on our occupation of Iraq. Which might explain why an internal EU document accepts as a foregone conclusion that Iran will eventually have the capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Foreclosure 101

Pop... Pop, pop... Pop... (From the LA Times):

For Hennigan, the search for a deal restarts every 10 days, when he gets a packet from United Title Co.

Drawn from public data, it has the names, addresses and loan information for people in Riverside County who are in default, which usually means about three months behind. They generally have another three months before the bank seizes the house.

"They get sold these houses on the idea that they can handle the mortgage, and then they can't," Hennigan said in his cubicle early one afternoon. He glanced at the sheets and reeled off some of the amounts due: $13,708 … $5,209 … $12,776 … $15,149.

When he combs through the listings, Hennigan ignores anyone who owes more on a home than it is worth. These folks are in too much trouble to be saved. What he's looking for are owners who, after closing costs and a 6% agent's commission (half to Hennigan, half to the buyer's agent), will walk away with their credit rating intact and some cash to start anew. This will give them an incentive to deal.

He likes to pay his unannounced visits late in the afternoon, betting that the wife will be home and the husband not. "I can't remember the last time a man said, 'Let's sit down and talk,' " Hennigan said.

Coming along on this afternoon's prospecting trip is Jerald Becerra, a former body-shop estimator for insurance companies who became a full-time agent in August. "I'll stay in the car, keep the engine running," he says. "Just in case someone comes out with a shotgun."

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bush Knows Money Laundering

That's funny. Foreign Policy just conducted a survey of 100 experts on the GWOT, something they call the Terrorism Index. And the area where the experts gave the Bush administration its highest marks was in the effort to track down and freeze the terrorists' money trail through the international banking system:

"It’s worth remembering that this was the one area where the 9/11 Commission gave an A-level grade to the Bush administration. They were savvy to leverage earlier initiatives to combat financial abuse, apply them to terrorist financing, and secure broad international support," says index participant Daniel Drezner, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Apparently they know a thing or two about how to shuttle money back and forth without setting off any regulatory alarms. I guess corruption in Washington isn't all bad.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama As Rorschach Test

In a previous post on Barack Obama, I was tempted to say that his blackness was like a national Rorshach test, meaning something different to everyone who looked at it. But that seemed to be too broad a claim to defend at 3 o'clock in the morning, so I opted instead for the simple observation that his blackness is already playing out in some very counterintuitive ways.

Now the beginnings of a Barack backlash have begun to show up on the national radar. And it should come as no surprise that one of the early arrivals focuses on his racial identity. Specifically the racial politics of his church, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and its pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who has been described as Obama's spiritual mentor. Here's how Investors Business Daily puts it in this hatchet job:

Those spreading rumors that Barack Hussein Obama is a "closet Muslim" are off the mark. His religion has little to do with Islam and everything to do with a militantly Afrocentric movement that's no less troubling.

Wow. Seems like pretty strong stuff for a guy who was asked on national TV as recently as two days ago whether he was black enough. (His response, that when it comes time to find a cab he is, might have been lost on many white Americans, but I'm sure scored some points with the Black community.)

Is it true? The easy response would be, Of course not. This sort of claim is not meant to stand up to scrutiny. Its purpose, similar to the madrassah story, is to plant an image in the minds of people who don't know much about Obama yet, the image of the Black bogeyman.

But to dismiss the story out of hand would be to miss an opportunity to advance the dialogue of racial understanding that Obama's candidacy presents. Because the real answer is a bit more complicated...

Read the full post>>

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Politics   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

That Should Do The Trick

What if all the laws Congress passed were this concise?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Chris Dodd Gets Props

I recently proposed a Seven-point Plan I'd like to see the Democratic presidential candidates collectively endorse to demonstrate their commitment to returning the executive branch to the limits of constitutional authority. Well, tomorrow, Chris Dodd is going to introduce legislation into the Senate that seems to get the ball rolling. According to his website, the Effective Terrorist Prosecution Act:

  • Restores Habeas Corpus protections to detainees
  • Narrows the definition of unlawful enemy combatant to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants
  • Bars information gained through coercion from being introduced as evidence in trials
  • Empowers military judges to exclude hearsay evidence they deem to be unreliable
  • Authorizes the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to review decisions by the Military commissions
  • Limits the authority of the President to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and makes that authority subject to congressional and judicial oversight
  • Provides for expedited judicial review of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to determine the constitutionally of its provisions

The Act will basically undo the most egregious measures of the Military Commissions Act passed last year. As TPM Muckraker pointed out, that law passed the Senate with 65 votes, so this is far from a done deal, either to make it out of the Senate or to clear a veto. But it's a good first step in the right direction.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Domestic Policy   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

China's Getting Thirsty

We're used to thinking about the geopolitical race for natural resources in terms of oil, gas, minerals and metals. But reading through this rundown of China's strategic concerns by Gideon Rachman, the foreign affairs commentator for Financial Times, what jumped out at me was what came right after "Energy": Water.

Here's a map modelling global water scarcity come 2025, and as you can see, things don't look so good for the Chinese. The northern part of the country will be in physical scarcity, meaning the actual drying up of water sources, while the south will be forced to choose between either devoting its dwindling water supplies to agricultural irrigation, or maintaining its industrial production.

Something to think about when watching the pieces on the global chessboard move from square to square.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Toeing The Party Line

I promised a bunch of background on the French presidential election, and I realize now that guilt over my failure to do so has kept me from even posting on some of the developments going on. So I'm just going to start giving updates, and hope that people care.

The big news of the campaign here has been Ségolène Royal's recent slippage in the polls, due in part to a series of media-stoked gaffes, but also because she had committed herself to a listening period made up of small regional town hall-type meetings, as well as online forums, to integrate the concerns of the French electorate into her campaign program.

Despite taking a beating for running what was called a policy-free campaign based on charisma and popularity polls (remind you of anyone?), she stuck to her guns, arguing that to cave in on her promise to the French people would be a sign of weakness.

Well, yesterday marked the end of the listening period and the big rollout of a program. And consensus seems to be that two months of direct consultations with the French electorate have produced a 100-point plan that bears a strong resemblance to the Socialist party's electoral platform, completed... last year. As the BBC puts it:

Thus her call for a rise in the monthly minumum wage to 1,500 euros (£1,000; $1,952) in the course of the next legislature is straight out of the PS programme, as is the proposal to increase low pensions by 5%.

It was a party idea to build 120,000 social housing units a year, to place a rental ceiling for low-income families at 25% of monthly revenue, and to punish councils that do not build their legal quota of public accommodation.

Reducing the country's reliance on nuclear power by increasing renewable energy sources to 20% of needs by 2020 is also a Socialist measure, as is the idea to provide free out-of-class coaching to all schoolchildren.

In other words, after flirting for the past few months with a Third Way-type centrism that rankled some of the party apparatchik, Ségo has largely re-positioned herself as a true Socialist candidate in order to mobilize the base for the first round of elections.

Now everyone will have their eyes glued on the poll numbers to see what impact it has on the campaign. My prediction? If she doesn't turn things around in the next two weeks, look for one of "the elephants", as the old-time party bigshots are known here, to launch an independent campaign bid. Specifically Laurent Fabius, a former Prime Minister under Mitterand, who had no qualms bucking the party line to oppose the constitutional referendum in 2005.

As I put it in a comment on another blog, politics isn't just a game here. It's a blood sport.

Posted by Judah in:  La Presidentielle   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Problem Solved

NY Times:

Russia's defense minister said Sunday that Russia had succeeded in its latest war in Chechnya, defeating separatists and what he called their “emissaries from 50 states.”

“We have scored a success in Chechnya,” said the defense minister, Sergei B. Ivanov. “The problem has been solved.”

Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch also documented numerous cases in which personnel of the Second Operational Investigative Bureau (ORB-2) of the Russian Federal Ministry of Interior tortured detainees in official places of detention.

Detainees described being subjected to electric shocks and severely beaten with boots, sticks, plastic bottles filled with water or sand, and heavy rubber-coated cables; some also said that they were burned. In addition, a number of interviewees told Human Rights Watch about psychological pressure, such as threats or imitation of sexual abuse or execution, as well as threats to harm their relatives...

The climate of impunity is worsened by the authorities’ persistent efforts to close Chechnya to outside scrutiny and prevent documentation of abuses. Last month, Russia refused to allow the UN special rapporteur on torture to conduct unannounced visits and meet with detainees in private, forcing him to postpone his visit to Russia and Chechnya indefinitely. Such conditions are standard for the special rapporteur’s visits around the world.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Media Coverage   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Encyclopedia Brown On The Case

It looks like we're going to have to add another three-letter acronym to our vocabulary in a hurry, because after WMD's and IED's, we're now going to be hearing quite a bit about EFP's (explosively formed penetrators).

A good part of the case laid out by American intelligence supposedly proving that Iran has been supplying Iraqi insurgents with mortar shells and RPG's is based on the weapons' serial numbers:

The shells had serial numbers in English in order to comply with international standards for arms, the officials said. One grenade, for instance, was marked with the serial number P.G.7-AT-1 followed by LOT:5-31-2006. The officials said that the serial numbers clearly identified the grenade as being of Iranian manufacture and the date showed that it had been made in 2006.

Now, here's a question that no one seems to have asked, but that I'm trying to get answered. Is it possible to manufacture these weapons without the serial numbers, or with falsified ones, or to in some other way get around the international weapons standards? And if so, is it likely that the Iranians would leave such an obvious fingerprint on their work? I'll post the answer as soon as I get one.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Obama Everywhere

Well, one thing's for sure. If media coverage were votes, Barack Obama would be President already. Of course, part of it has to do with the fact that he's such an unknown quantity. Yes, there was the high-profile convention moment in 2004, and people who follow politics have had their eye on him for a while. But to the general public he's a newbie, which means hot ink.

So far the coverage has been focusing around:

  • His insistance on vague and inspirational rhetoric, at the expense of policy proposals.
  • His talent, charisma, and authenticity.
  • His relatively short political career.
  • His blackness.

I think there are as many political strengths as weaknesses to be found in all four. I've argued the merits of detailed policy proposals before, and it's something I'd like to develop further. But the short version is that telephone book-sized legislation is a big cause of the disconnect that exists between voters and government today. (Corruption being the other.) The politician who finds a way to re-invent not just politics, but government itself, as a goal-oriented, policy-adaptive institution stands to bring a lot of people into the process who would otherwise stand on the sidelines.

It might seem difficult to argue that talent, charisma and authenticity might have downsides, but mark my words: There's going to be a backlash, and when it comes, it will try to make talent look like ambition and charisma like self-importance. As for authenticity, it's a difficult quality to maintain on the campaign trail, especially with more than a year to go before the first primary votes are cast. It looks like Obama's wisely decided to play down people's fascination with his personal excellence and steer press coverage back from "me" to "us".

Short political careers set up the classic pro/con debate of inexperience vs. fresh ideas. With his emphasis on audacity and hope, or in other words bold action and results, Obama's already playing this one up as the latter. But he's got very little room for error. Any major gaffes or slips, while unlikely given his academic brilliance, will immediately put his credibility in doubt.

That leaves Obama's blackness, which is already playing out in some very counterintuitive ways. Consider that in the same week that Joe Biden's clumsy -- and mis-transcribed -- remarks set off a firestorm of controversy about language and race, some black leaders were grumbling that Obama, to put it bluntly, isn't "one of us". (The reasoning being that Obama's father is African, his mother is white, and he grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii.) Consider also that Hillary Clinton is outpolling him among black Democrats. The danger, of course, of not being embraced by what the rest of America will always consider "his own" is the impression it leaves of being somehow in-authentic. The opportunity lies in the chance it gives Obama to frame his narrative in the broader American tradition, and to define himself as a candidate for president who's black, instead of as a black candidate for president.

There's still a long way to go before the primaries, to say nothing of the general election. Plenty of time to fill in the outlines with substance, or let loose with a Dean Scream. So far, though, I'd say Obama's making all the right moves.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Gates Responds

Robert Gates just addressed the same European security conference where Vladimir Putin yesterday blasted American unilateralism as the primary force for instability in the world. He responded to Putin's speech using a blend of tactful irony and firmness to stand his ground:

“As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time,” Mr. Gates said. He paused for effect before adding, “Almost...”

“Russia is a partner in endeavors,” Mr. Gates added. “But we wonder, too, about some Russian policies that seem to work against international stability, such as its arms transfers and its temptation to use energy resources for political coercion.”

In other words, there are no good guys or bad guys, just nation states pursuing their national interests. As for the idea of a coming Cold War, v2.0, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov seemed to put a quash on it, describing the two country's relations as "...so mature that we are free to speak what we really think.”

As well as sell air defense missiles to whoever we like.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Strategic Recovery

Lt. Gen. William Odom (Ret'd) on Iraq:

The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options...

Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize the Middle East.

Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually destabilizing the region...

Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not primarily a democratic Iraq...

Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of Iraq...

If Bush truly wanted to rescue something of his historical legacy, he would seize the initiative to implement this kind of strategy. He would eventually be held up as a leader capable of reversing direction by turning an imminent, tragic defeat into strategic recovery.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Politics Ends At The Water's Edge?

Thanks to TPM for the link to this article about Aussie Prime Minister John Howard's broadside against the Dems in general, and Barack Obama in particular. Howard warned that Obama's deadline for withdrawing US troops from Iraq by March, 2008, would "...encourage those who wanted completely to destabilise and destroy Iraq...", adding:

If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats. 

This is obviously a violation of diplomatic protocol, which looks askance at endorsing candidates in a sovereign state's elections, especially an ally's. It'll be interesting to see the White House's reaction, all the more so in light of Dems' very strong response to Hugo Chavez's UN remarks last year.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Levin On The Case

I mentioned yesterday, with regard to the Senate investigation into Douglas Feith's pre-War intel shenanigans, that who was told what and under whose instuction looked like it might be the lead to follow. Well, it looks like Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, is going to go after Stephen Hadley and Scooter Libby, two of the guys briefed by Feith's team, next. The White House usually resists having its aides questioned by Congress, so this could get interesting.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Building The Case For War

The Bush administration's rollout of the case against Iran is kicking into high gear. We're already familiar with two angles they'll be pursuing: the nuclear proliferation dossier that's been bouncing around for a while now, and the more recently introduced accusations of material support for Iraqi insurgents.

But today the Washington Post shed some light on a possible third angle being developed by the administration: Tehran's handling of known Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives captured while transiting Iran. There's still some inside sparring going on about how hard to push this one, but if it goes down, the argument is based on UN Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373.

The first, passed in 1999, effectively froze the Taliban out of the international community. The second, passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, basically called on all member states to combat terrorism through, among other measures, refraining from active or passive support of known terrorists, and through denying safe haven and transit.

The Post states that the resolutions authorize the use of force, although it's ambiguous whether they're citing the administration's claim or making it themselves. Of course, at the time everyone seemed to agree that we'd invaded Afghanistan without any explicit Security Council resolution authorizing it.

Now six years down the line, the resolutions that didn't authorize an invasion of Afghanistan somehow do authorize an invasion of Iran. Don't you love it when that happens?

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back To The Future

Okay, either the AP wire service is recycling stories from 1987, or else things are really, really starting to heat up between Russia and the United States. Yesterday, the Russian military's Chief of Staff described American penetration into Russia's traditional spheres of influence as Russia's top national security threat. Quoted in the same article, Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defense minister, ridiculed American claims that the missile defense system we're installing in the Czech Republic and Poland is meant to defend against possible ICBM attacks from Iran and N. Korea:

Mr Ivanov said the two countries, both former Soviet satellites, were too far away to play a part in disabling missiles from North Korea or Iran. “Take a look at the map,” he said. He added that he did not believe the system would be effective against terrorist groups.

“They just don’t need missiles,” he said. “They have other forms of delivery – human bodies and civilian aircraft.”

Then today, in what John McCain called "...the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War...", Vladimir Putin blamed American unilateralism for inciting nuclear proliferation:

"It is a world of one master, one sovereign ... it has nothing to do with democracy," he said. "This is nourishing the wish of countries to get nuclear weapons."

"This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law," Putin told the gathering.

It's a truism that Russian foreign policy is driven by a deep-seated territorial insecurity. But like the old saying goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Things Done Changed

Just in case you thought Park Slope, Brooklyn, had gone soft, think again. Apparently a plain-clothes cop was shot on Prospect Place and Sixth Avenue, just four blocks from where yours truly first learned the difference between pacifist, progressive ideals and street justice. According to the 1010 WINS report (You know it!), old-school protocol was followed strictly, down to the pronouncement of the ritual phrase initiating hostilities:

The driver of the Acura pulled alongside the officers' car, leaned over and said "You got a beef?'' before firing a shot, officials said.

The officer was not seriously injured and is expected to make a full recovery.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

"A Moment Of History"

That's how the head of Splash News and Picture Agency described the grainy video footage his paparazzi managed to get of paramedics trying to resuscitate Anna Nicole Smith while gurneying her to a waiting ambulance. Footage that fetched a cool half-million dollars:

Tetley defended the selling of the footage. "It captures the vain battle to save her life. People want to know what happened," he said.

"It was good journalism. We knew where she was staying, we sent in a team of photographers and cameras and we were in the right place at the right time..."

Two things immediately come to mind. First, the dude who videotaped the Saddam Hussein hanging is probably feeling pretty stupid for having dumped it online for free right about now. And second, when this lowlife Tetley kicks the bucket, I'd be surprised if he even warrants an obit.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Say What?   

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Constant Partial Engagement

Josh Marshall made the point at the end of a recent post that however disastrous our Iraq adventure turns out to be, we as a country will survive it. It's a point that bears repeating: Contrary to the fear-mongering of the past four years, America does not face an existential threat. Neither in al Qaeda or Iraq.

And as important as it is to contain the fallout of the Iraq War, the same holds true should the neocons get their wish for a military confrontation with Iran. The danger of such a confrontation is not so much Iran's capacity for response, which though greater than Iraq's will remain limited and asymmetric. America as a nation will survive them. But at what cost?

The neocons' grand vision for re-making the Middle East into a liberal democracy has been exposed for the collective hallucination that it was. But that pipedream was always a cover for a more realistic project: The conversion of American society to a permanent wartime footing.

A regional shooting war pitting America vs. Iran will result, not in a major conflagration, but in a series of explosive incidents, some more sustained than others, requiring the constant partial engagement of America's military. This at a time when our Armed Forces are already straining from the attrition of four years of war, and having difficulty replenishing both their ranks and hardware.

Of course, America has the excess productive capacity to repair its military, as demonstrated by the staggering $480 billion Pentagon budget for 2008. The figure grows to $715 billion when the supplemental budget requests for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, as well as global anti-terrorism operations, are factored in.

That represents 6% of US estimated GDP, roughly double what Russia and China, our two principle stragetic rivals for global influence, devote to their military spending. A sustained conflict with Iran would obviously only widen the gap, while making the reinstitution of the draft inevitable.

The question isn't whether or not America, the economy, can sustain it. It can. The question is whether America, the nation, can. I, for one, have my doubts.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   International Relations   Iran   

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Stormy Weather

We've all heard alot about the Iraq War's ramifications on the regional balance of power in the Middle East. Not so much has been mentioned, though, about two other major consequences it's had on the broader geopolitical chessboard. Namely, the widening divergence between Europe's regional interests and our own, and the increasingly aggressive posture taken by the Russians vis à vis American militarism. Throw in an Iranian regime cagily seeking to leverage any advantage it can, an Indian economy glowing red-hot, and the international ambitions of the Chinese and you've got the makings of a multi-polar counterweight to American unilateralism.

The glue that could conceivably hold it all together? Natural gas. Specifically, Iran and Russia's abundance of it, and the European, Indian and Chinese markets for it. Between China and India's energy appetite, Europe's desire to diversify its gas supplies, Iran's need to peel off allies in its regional rivalry with the US, and Russia's interest in both securing energy markets and countering America's influence in Eurasia, there are all the makings of a perfect storm.

Oh, and... guess who plays the boat?

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   International Relations   Iran   

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Deep-Freeze The Peas, Please

Let's say you were responsible for preserving the Earth's biodiversity in the event of catastrophic climate change? What sort of things would you look for before you started building your doomsday seed vault?

Well, first off, there'd have to be a natural source of refrigeration in the event of power failure. So finding a mountain with a permafrost core would top the list. You'd have to model worst-case global warming scenarios for 200 years into the future, to make sure the location would not be overtaken by the rising ocean levels. Radiation levels would be a major concern, too, so you'd have to check those out.

Luckily, scientists in Norway have already done all the work for us, though. They'll be breaking ground in March, with the vault scheduled to open in 2008. Now that's a ribbon-cutting ceremony I'd pay to attend.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   Say What?   

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Feith Changed His Briefs

The Senate Armed Services Committee sparred today over what to make of the Pentagon Inspector General's report on the Office of Special Plans, Douglas Feith's pre-War intelligence-cooking unit at the Defense Dept. The report's key finding? The operation was authorized, because it was directed by Dep. Sec. of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz.

...however, we believe the actions were inappropriate because a policy office was producing intelligence products and was not clearly conveying to senior decision-makers the variance with the consensus of the Intelligence Community.

Thomas F. Gimble, the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, refused to be pinned down by either side, but he did offer up this intriguing morsel:

However, Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, drew from Mr. Gimble a statement that Mr. Feith had not been entirely consistent in his intelligence briefings, in ways Mr. Gimble said he could not go into for security reasons.

“He changed the briefing for his audience?” Mr. Reed asked

“There were adjustments made depending on the audience,” Mr. Gimble replied.

Both Carl Levin, the Armed Services committee chair, and Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, have indicated they're going to follow up aggressively on the report's findings. Who was told what, and by whose instructions, seems like a pretty good place to start.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Friday Sheep Blogging

This is how they mow the lawn in Provence. Seriously, the closest thing to a traffic jam we get around here, outside of tourist season, is during the Transhumance, when the shepherds bring the sheep down from the mountains for the winter, or vice versa for the summer.

I've been caught in two so far, once alone and once with my son. We sat and watched them drift by, strangely powerless and fascinated. One even jumped up on the hood of the car. I'll try to add some more slices of life around here from time to time. (Blogommage to Kevin Drum.)

Posted by Judah in:  Blogommage   

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Friday, February 9, 2007

Where Are They Now?

We read alot at the time about the Coalition Provisional Authority's hiring practices: High-level appointees vetted for partisan loyalty, and young staffers, often fresh out of college or grad school, recruited by the Heritage Foundation. Well, with Paul Bremer back in the news, testifying before Congress about the disappearance of Benjamins by the plane-load, I thought it might be interesting to find out what's become of the freshfaced graduates of the CPA. Call it a Facebook for the unsung heroes of the Iraq Occupation.

Only trouble is, there doesn't seem to be a single document online listing the CPA personnel. No staff directory on the CPA homepage, no news references. I'll keep digging on this one. In the meantime, if anyone's got a link or a lead, drop it in the comments or e-mail me.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Other Surge

According to McClatchy, one out of every seven Iraqis has been displaced by the war, either relocating within Iraq, or seeking refugee status abroad. Estimates put the number at up to two million refugees in neighboring states, with up to 1.7 million internally displaced within Iraq. So what measures has the Bush administration taken to shoulder some of the responsibility for what's becoming a humanitarian crisis? Well, the numbers pretty much speak for themselves:

  1. 2007 supplemental funding for Iraq War: $170 billion.
  2. 2007 supplemental funding for Iraqi refugees: $15 million.
  3. 2008 budget request for IraqWar: $140 billion.
  4. 2008 budget request for Iraqi refugees: $35 million.
  5. Estimated number of Iraqis displaced each month: 40,000.
  6. Iraqi refugees admitted into the US since 2003: 466.
  7. Maximum number of Iraqi refugees to be admitted in 2007: 20,000.

This is beyond shameful.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Tomorrow's Jihadists Today

Ezra Klein is right: The recent rash of downed helicopters in Iraq shows what a valuable training ground for aspiring insurgents Iraq has proven to be, just like Afghanistan was before it. Which leads me to wonder. Between the Shiite militias in the infiltrated Iraqi Army, and the Sunni insurgents in the field, is there any enemy, potential or real, that we're not training?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

Edwards' Blogging Headache

The spherical world of blogs has been abuzz the last few days with a story that might not translate so well for folks who don't follow blogs as obsessively as most bloggers do. Last week, the Edwards campaign hired two women to handle the campaign's online opinion-shaping efforts. Both are accomplished bloggers in the activist "netroot" style, with wide readerships and long, easily vetted public policy positions.

But apparently no one at the Edwards campaign bothered to do so, since both have since come under fire, albeit from dubious right-wing critics, for their provocative stances on various issues, as well as their use of colorful language to express them. Among the offending passages? A number of offensive and inflammatory remarks towards Catholics and evangelical Christians. Now everyone (that either publishes a blog or reads one, that is) is waiting to see whether the Edwards campaign caves in and fires the two, or stands by the hires.

The whole episode raises lots of interesting questions, including how mainstream campaigns, by nature discrete and cautious (in Freudian terms, retentive), can hope to harness the power and influence of bloggers, often flamboyant and provocative (in Freudian terms, explosive). The arrangement seems inherently unstable, given the campaign's need for presenting a unified front, and the blogger's instinct for airing dirty laundry in public.

But assuming it is possible, the question arises of whether it's advisable. Can outspoken bloggers who become paid employees, ie. spokespeople, of a campaign retain their credibility as independent critics? How will they respond to the accusations that arise each time they start toe-ing a line that contradicts their previously published opinion? Or worse, if they remain silent?

To illustrate the point, let's substitute rappers for bloggers. While I don't think it would surprise anyone to see a politically engaged, socially conscious rapper endorse a presidential candidate, the idea of one being hired as a liaison to the hip hop community would probably raise eyebrows. As well as questions about their credibility each time they recorded a "sponsored" rap.

To bring it back to the case of the Edwards bloggers, imagine now that in addition to a sterling progressive record, our rapper has in the past recorded a lyric or two bashing gays, to pick a sadly common example. Do you think progressive bloggers would still be calling for the campaign to stand behind him?

It seems like at the very least, a strong disavowal of any offensive (hence divisive) positions is in order. As well as a re-consideration of whether it's in either party's interest to bring the online opinionators in from the cold.

Update: Looks like they've taken the disavowal route after all. TPM Cafe has the statements just released by Edwards and the two bloggers.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Politics   

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Is A Wonk-Free Politics Possible?

The other day, in my reaction to John Edwards' healthcare proposal, I explained why I have a hard time getting excited about detailed policy proposals. Only to find quite a bit of discussion on a handful of other blogs I follow about whether detailed policy proposals help or hinder a Presidential candidate.

Now my argument runs somewhat parallel to these other discussions, which were tactical in nature, but never questioned the usefulness of wonkish policy proposals at some stage of the political process. What I'm proposing is an entirely wonk-free politics.

The reasoning being, no matter how well thought-out a policy proposal is, there's always going to be:

  1. Alternative approaches to parsing the numbers that will contest the predicted results;
  2. Some legislative compromise that will dilute the intended effect;
  3. Variations in regulatory oversight that will impact the enforcement;
  4. Unintended and unforeseen consequences, both beneficial and not;
  5. And adaptations to the legislation that will dampen or exagerrate the policy's effectiveness.

I said in that first post that government is better suited to setting broad national priorities than it is to micro-regulating policy. Especially in an age when only a small minority of our elected officials even read, much less understand the implications of, the laws they're passing. To say nothing of the electorate.

So what would a wonk-free politics look like? Two things spring to mind, right off the bat. It would emphasize the goals that we, as a nation, want to achieve, while maintaining flexibility with regard to the means we use to achieve them. And it would place a premium on government's responsiveness, in order to capitalize on successes and remedy failures.

I admit, it sounds utopian, and maybe it is. But I can't help but think that there's a problem with the way we conduct the business of government when so many people, perfectly capable of understanding policy discussions, don't even bother to pay attention. Why? Because they know that nine times out of ten, the fine print of a piece of legislation is either unfathomable, unverifiable, or undisclosed.

So, am I just hopelessly naive, or out of touch? Could be, but if so, I'm not the only one:

It is time for us to free ourselves from the constraints of politics. It's time for us to stop settling for the world as it is and start reimagining the world as it might be... That's what we offer the American people: hope. There are those who don't believe in talking about hope. They say, "Well, we want specifics; we want details; and we want white papers; we want plans." We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope. And over the next year, over the next two years, that will be my call to you.

That's Barack Obama at last week's DNC Winter Meeting.

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   Politics   

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tit For Tat?

Here's a story that will undoubtedly pick up steam, and I've got a hunch sooner rather than later. An Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, was abducted on Sunday in Baghdad by up to 30 armed men in Iraqi Army uniforms. Sound familiar? Maybe that's because of the incident in Karbala in late January, when four US soldiers were abducted and killed by a group masquerading as American GI's. American officials were quick to suggest Iranian involvement after that attack. So it should come as no surprise that in calling for Sharafi's release, Iran has put the blame for his abduction directly at America's feet.

Four Iraqi military officers are already in custody for the abduction, but questions remain about whose orders they were carrying out. Iraq and the US both deny any involvement, with the Iraqi Foreign Minister adding an expression of embarassment at the country's failure to uphold its obligation to protect the foreign diplomatic corps.

Now, I'm not sure which would be more alarming, this being an American operation, or the work of a rogue element within the Iraqi Army. The consequences of American involvement seem pretty clear: Escalation of the simmering proxy war between us and Iran.

But if this turns out to be an Iraqi job, it could mean that an internal conflict is brewing between Iraqi Shiites who embrace Iran and those who don't. At which point, there will be very little left of an Iraqi state to support. Whichever way this one heads, it's going to open up a can of worms.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   International Relations   Iran   

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Comments Section

A little in-house business for those of you inclined to use the comments page. I added some code that now requires you to fill in the name and e-mail address fields.  (The e-mail address still does not appear, by the way.) So if you've gotten into the habit of leaving those blank, don't be surprised by a little prompt.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Cut & Stay

Not too long ago, in the comments section of the highly recommended site Voices of Reason, I suggested a tactical solution to the Iraq War quagmire. As I put it there:

There is an option no one's mentioned, which is probably the best strategic option, even if it is unpalatable and unlikely:

The U.S. withdraws its reduced troop presence to an outpost in the Iraqi desert somewhere, from which it guarantees the "autonomy" of the Iraqi government, and the "stability" of the region in general, leaving day-to-day patrolling to the Iraqis.

In other words, remove ourselves from the line of fire, without relinquishing a necessary presence to save a semblance of geo-political face.

So it's gratifying to see Edward Luttwak propose the exact same thing, using the eminently more dignified term "Disengagement", in an op-ed in today's Times. Now to go treat my shoulder for "Patting myself on the back" syndrome.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iraq   Politics   

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

To Bind Or Not To Bind?

I admit I've been a bit dismissive of the Battle of the Non-Binding Resolutions going on in the Senate. It seems to me like a waste of time and political energy that could be spent either putting the brakes on a war with Iran, going after Cheney to cut the legs out from under Bush, defining a strategic plan for a way to eventually extricate us from Iraq, or all of the above.

E.J. Dionne seems to think otherwise, and Kevin Drum agrees with him. Their argument is that shifting public opinion on something of this magnitude happens in baby steps, and the vote of no-confidence, if passed, will have a major impact on swinging opinion towards not just opposing the surge, but to ending the war.

I'm not so sure that we should be rushing in that direction, though. After all, we already started this war without a plan. The least we could do is come up with one to end it. But maybe I'm a bit tone deaf on this one since I'm not stateside. Anyone?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Healthcare In Broad Strokes

John Edward's just announced a thumbnail sketch of his health coverage plan. In the coming days, the rest of the candidates will offer their own variations, and eventually a consensus will form about what's electable and what isn't. And if it sounds like I have a hard time getting excited about it all, it's because I do.

Both by temperament and deep-seated skepticism about government's ability to do anything more than establish broad national priorities, I tend to have little interest in policy in the narrow, wonk-ish sense of the term. Luckily, there are folks like Ezra Klein for informative discussions of the nuts and bolts of Edwards' plan.

My own thoughts tend to turn to the context that frames the debate but is rarely mentioned. How, for instance, as a society we've medicalized what are in reality the consequences of poverty, especially in the mental health field. How Western medicine is organized around a model of costly technological and/or pharmaceutical responses instead of less expensive and less invasive preventive measures.

How both of these trends reinforce a power dynamic that leaves ordinary people seeking healthcare increasingly at the mercy of either private insurers or the government's attempts to intercede on their behalf.

Hard to put into quantifiable numbers, I admit. But there are policy wonks for that part, right?

Update: Kevin Drum just posted a nice overview of the plan, including policy and political up- and downsides.

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   Politics   

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Monday, February 5, 2007

Syria's Fifteen Minutes Of Fame

You've got to take anything anyone says about Iraq right now with a grain of salt, but this interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is definitely an eye-opener. Not really for anything he says, which is relatively boilerplate stuff, but the way he says it. Here's his response to whether Syria can stop the violence in Iraq:

First of all, the problem in Iraq is political, and talking to Syria as a concept means talking to all the other parties inside Iraq and outside Iraq. We're not the only player. We're not the single player, but we are the main player in this issue, and our role is going to be through supporting the dialogue between the different parties inside Iraq with the support from the other parties like the Americans and the other neighboring countries and any other country in the world. So that's how we can stop the violence. [Emphasis added.]

Another one that jumped out at me:

Sawyer: But in America they believe that you are all powerful, and you say the word and the border will stop.

Assad: Powerful is different from being omnipotent — power that you can control everything completely. You cannot control your border with Mexico, can you? You're the greatest power in the world, you cannot control it with Mexico, so how do you want Syria to control its border with Iraq?

And while we're on the topic of that famous porous border and what it represents, there's more to it than meets the eye. This Joshua Landis article describes in depth some of the logic behind Syria's past policy of openness towards Iraqi refugees, which was based on Baathist pan-Arab nationalism, as well as some of the reasons they've recently drastically altered that policy, much to Iraq's chagrin. He concludes a thorough analysis of Syria's motivation with this:

Syria will continue to seek improved ties with as many parties as possible in Iraq. It is genuinely fearful of the consequences of a meltdown and the failure of Washington's mission to bolster the present government. It does not like America's presence in Iraq, but for the time being neither does it want the US to fail in keeping the government afloat. As Foreign Minister Muellem declared a few weeks ago, Syria does not want American troops to withdraw precipitously, although, it does want to be included in talks.

Syria's recent policy shift toward Iraq underlines how futile and self-destructive Washington's policy of excluding Syria has become. US prospects of stabilizing the situation in Iraq are not good, but without cooperating from Syria, they are surely worse than they have to be. Syria shares many of Washington's objectives in Iraq - not all, to be sure, but enough to make cooperation the only wise policy.

But even if everyone gets on the same page and agrees that turning Syria is the strategic key to mitigating the disaster we've created in Iraq, that begs the question, Is it possible? Steve Clemons seems to think so:

Bashar al-Assad and the clique of nine who surround him and are the real decision-makers inside Syria are also self-preservationist/realists. Some in this clique are modernist reformers and others are nefarious thugs, but they are all ultra-rational...

Reform should always be on the table of American negotiators... but there are things that we can offer al-Assad and his backers to move them on a Libya-like course.

We need to drop our counter-productive obsessions with regime change and do a deal that offers Syria's rationalists an arrangement that meets their needs and begins to turn our fortunes a more positive direction in the Middle East.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. This administration is busy encouraging everyone within Iraq to settle their differences through negotiations and the political process. It's advice we'd do well to follow ourselves.

Update: Just to make it clear, none of the above is intended to make the Syrians out to be choir boys. Apparently things are heating up behind the scenes in Lebanon, with both the CIA and Syrian intelligence upping the ante in the power struggle between Hezbollah and the Siniora government. (Thanks again to Joshua Landis.)

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iraq   

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Monday, February 5, 2007

The Surge Protectors

Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about the group of junior officers that makes up Gen. David Petraeus' war council. They've all got PhD's and Iraq tours under their belts, and a couple of them were field commanders responsible for some of the few universally acclaimed operations of the post-Mission Accomplished phase of the war.

What jumped out at me, however, was the presence of Australian army officer and degreed anthropologist, Lt. Col. David Kilcullen. Kilcullen, you might recall, got some attention last fall with the counter-insurgency field manual he wrote for the US Army entitled, "Twenty-eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency." It's a highly readable, informative document that's worth a look.

These guys are all sharp, experienced, creative and educated, presumably the guys who should have been running the show from day one. So why are they willing to take a handoff now, when consensus has it that it's too little, too late? One of Kilcullen's major contributions to modern counterinsurgency doctrine is his appreciation of the role played by global communications. So:

  1. Look for a more skillful use of the media, including a campaign highlighting the dynamic changes sweeping Baghdad, leading to
  2. A second-phase escalation once the Baghdad Surge has borne some fruit. 

Call it a hunch, but you don't send your all-stars in to run out the clock. This is just a warm-up for Surge Two.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Needed Clarification

Nothing like trying to explain what's going on in American politics to folks who aren't following it in obsessive detail to put into context exactly what's at stake. Last night I spent the evening with a couple friends, one English, one Dutch. And when I got to the part about the American people being strongly opposed to the troop buildup in Iraq, and the American Congress being strongly opposed to the troop buildup in Iraq, and then finished with the part about the President following through on the troop buildup in Iraq, the response was quizzical, to say the least.

Of course, both English and Dutch public opinion was largely opposed to those countries' involvement in the Iraq War, which did not prevent both parliaments from eventually giving their approval. But a head of state acting in the face of both the people's and Congress' opposition to a measure is generally what's construed by most democratic traditions as tyranny.

I went on to explain that there was some confusion over who has the Constitutional authority to end a war, which is admittedly a simplification. Nevertheless, the Englishman's response was right on the money, something along the lines of, "Well, I suppose this is necessary to straighten it all out, then, isn't it?"

Isn't it, indeed.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Iraq   

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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Getting Back To The Constitution

Hillary Clinton made headlines yesterday by declaring at the DNC Winter Meeting, "If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as President, I will." Forceful, categoric, and obviously aimed to pre-empt criticism of her vote for the Iraq War resolution back in 2002.

All fine and good. What I'd like to see, though, is a Statement of Common Principles committing all the Democratic candidates, if elected, to return the executive branch to the limits of Consitutional authority. What would it look like? Well, for starters, I'd include the following:

  1. An immediate closing of GITMO.
  2. The right to trial in open court for all GWOT detainees.
  3. The categorical repudiation of torture, including inhumane treatment, for interrogation practices.
  4. The repudiation of extraordinary rendition for all GWOT detainees.
  5. The repudiation of all forms of domestic warrantless surveillance.
  6. The repudiation of elective war as an arm of US foreign policy.
  7. The return to executive transparency by limiting national security classification to a strict minimum.

As terrible a humanitarian and policy disaster as it's been, the Iraq War is in many ways only a symptom of the Bush administration's assault on the separation of powers as laid out in the Constitution. And as much as anything else, the Democratic candidates need to make it clear that they're committed to remedying that.

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   Foreign Policy   Iraq   Politics   

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Open Thread

I've actually got something that resembles a life today: my son's soccer match, followed by a little ex-pat guys' night out in a neighboring village. So I've added a link icon to the Comments page. Feel free to link to any headlines you run across today that you think deserve a click-through.

Posted by Judah in:  Open Thread   

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

When Borders Fail

Josh Marshall has a good post on some of the difficulty involved in trying to tease out who's doing what to sponsor the factional and sectarian infighting in Iraq. And then he closes with this:

But this gets to a deeper fallacy of the line of argument about neighboring countries 'meddling' in Iraq. Every shred of the failure that is Iraq bleeds over into the neighboring states, either as a threat or an opportunity, since they are all of the same fabric, or rather the same patchwork bleeding over national borders. The Sunnis with their coreligionists in Saudi Arabia; the Shia with theirs in Iran; the Kurds with theirs in southeastern Turkey whose affinity threatens to bring the Turks down into Iraq as well. The more we fail in Iraq, the more the threads we pull will pull into neighboring states. In other words, our inability to come to terms with and deal wtih what we have created in Iraq will almost inevitably lead to a widening gyre of escalation across Iraq's frontiers. I take it that this is what the Iraq Study Group folks were talking about when they spoke of the bleak outlook in Iraq and the necessity of getting quickly to some regional negotiations rather than trying to fight our way out of this box.

We're used to thinking of buffer states, like Kashmir or Iraq, as flashpoints for violence. But there are other more cooperative models for dealing with demographic realities that overtake geographic borders. (California and Texas spring to mind, where despite protectionist reactions, Mexicans and Americans on both sides of the border continue to take advantage of economic opportunites to create a web of inter-dependence.)

Here's a thought experiment: Imagine a scenario where Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were dying in the thousands, but the cause was not a civil war but a deadly earthquake. No one would question the outpouring of aid and support that would immediately start flowing in from across the borders in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. That's the difference between a humanitarian crisis and sectarian warfare.

The key to extricating ourselves from Iraq while leaving behind the semblance of a stable state is to de-militarize the situation. And the only way to do that is to start dialoguing with the other regional players, ie. Iran. Right now, we're pressuring the Sunnis to accept less of the cake than they were used to under Saddam, in exchange for more of the cake than they'll get through war with the Shiites. Seems like pretty good advice for us, too.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iraq   

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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Must Read McClatchy

It just occured to me as I was clicking the "Must Read" checkbox on yet another McClatchy News Service article that these guys have been doing some of the best reporting on Iraq & Iran out there. Plus, they've got a bunch of "inside Iraq" blogs, from both Iraqi journalists and Iraqi-based American reporters. If you're not already checking in with them, you should be.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Missed Opportunity

Meanwhile, instead of unanimously confirming Petraeus and then passing a resolution repudiating his strategy, why didn't the Armed Services committee make Bush parade a series of generals before them, getting every last one of them on record as to what chance they gave Surge-lite to succeed? That way they could have forced Bush to implement his excercise in futility with a commander on the ground who doesn't support it, making it clear where the blame lies when it bites the dust.

When are Congressional Dems going to realize that business as usual means losing? Trying to stop Bush's last move is a waste of time. Go on the offensive. The country needs it.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Are There Cliff Notes?

From the rollout of "Soldier Handbook: Surviving Iraq", the Army's new "how to" manual designed to help grunts make it past the increased casualty rate of the first 100 days of a unit's deployment:

Among other recommendations, many Soldiers recommended:

  • Staying aware of their surroundings,
  • Listening to their leaders,
  • Avoiding routine or predictable patterns,
  • Following standard operating procedures, and
  • Using protective gear and armored vehicles.

The handbook will be made available in paper format this month.

Just in time for the Surge.

Update: Something just jumped out at me on a re-read. How do you manage to avoid routine patterns while following standard operating procedures?

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Say What?   

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Chirac Goes Nuclear

There are no do-overs in life and politics, according to Hillary Clinton. Apparently, nobody passed the word to Jacques Chirac. In an interview given to the Times, the IHT and the Nouvel Obs on Monday, Chirac raised some eyebrows with his comments about a nuclear Iran. On Tuesday, he hurriedly called the reporters back to the Elysée to retract and amend the offending comments. He claimed he had believed he was speaking off the record, and that the remarks were not reflective of either French policy or his own opinion.

Too bad, because they're kind of refreshing in their candor, and they don't strike me as being so far off the mark:

"I would say that what is dangerous about this situation is not the fact of having a nuclear bomb... But what is very dangerous is proliferation..."

Chirac explained that it would be an act of self-destruction for Iran to use a nuclear weapon against another country. "Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?" Chirac asked. "It would not have gone off 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground..."

During the Monday interview, Chirac made clear that a more profound problem than Iran's possession of a nuclear weapon was that a nuclear-armed Iran might encourage other regional players to follow suit.

"...Why wouldn't Saudi Arabia do it? Why wouldn't it help Egypt to do so as well? That is the real danger."

You don't expect a guy who's been in politics as long as Jacques Chirac has (40 years) to make that kind of blunder. Which leads me to wonder whether it really was a blunder. Despite the hurried retraction and universal disavowal, Chirac's point strikes me as valid, namely that in a region like the Middle East, a nuclear bomb is more of an insurance policy than a threat. But the resulting instability due to proliferation drastically reduces even the security function.

Intelligence estimates vary wildly on how far away the Iranians are from having a bomb, but there doesn't seem to be much doubt that that's the direction they're heading in. And with the current political climate vis à vis pre-emptive military interventions, there may not be anything we can do to stop it.

So why not a little slip of the tongue to let the Iranians (and the Saudis and Egyptians) know that, sure, they might get a bomb eventually. But when they do, the rules of nuclear engagement, ie. mutually assured destruction, will apply.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Iran   

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

The French Election: Who Cares?

In case you're wondering why the French election matters for America, it boils down to the kind of multi-lateral coalitions we'll need to build if we're going to start re-stabilizing the Middle East. France probably has more credibility among the Arab states, and especially the Arab street, than any Western power, mainly because it is (accurately) perceived as not having a pro-Israel bias. Its refusal to endorse the Iraq War only enhanced that reputation. And while relations have been complicated and sometimes strained in the post-colonial era, you can't underestimate the influence and savoir faire that comes from upwards of a century of colonial rule.

As a result, France will be essential to any resolution of the crisis in Lebanon, and their involvement in the Quartet will legitimize the kinds of pressure that can be brought to bear on the Israelis and Palestinians to get back to serious negotiations. As for Iraq, don't be surprised if the English begin to feel some serious war fatigue in the near future, especially if America continues trying to provoke a shooting war with Iran. Which means that we might soon be essentially going it alone over there. Depending on how much humble pie we're willing to eat, and how many oil contracts we're willing to part with, introducing a French diplomatic role could add some legitimacy and dynamism to any endgame dealmaking.

So with that in mind, how do the candidates stack up? Sarkozy is the closest to a hardliner. He's a law & order type who strongly supports the War on Terror. He criticicized French "obstructionism" during the run-up to the Iraq War, although he's since modulated his position. And he's the most openly pro-American, and pro-Israeli, of the candidates.

Ségolène Royal's foreign policy stance is more strongly rooted in a European vision. She's described the invasion of Iraq as a catastrophe, but in doing so, made a point of distinguishing between the Bush administration and the United States. She's called for the restoration of European aid to the Palestinian Authority under Hamas, and was a vocal critic of America and Israel during the aerial bombardment of Southern Lebanon. At the same time, she's a firm opponent of a nuclear Iran, going so far as to call even a civilian capability unacceptable. Her foreign policy footing is perhaps less sure than that of her opponents, but she's far from a pushover.

Finally among the major candidates, there's François Bayrou. He, too, is a deeply rooted European, who advocates a unified EU foreign policy. He was firmly opposed to the Iraq War, although his reasoning had as much to do with the precedent it set for dealing with rogue states in general as it did with the Iraq dossier in particular. His position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nuanced and balanced. And he's opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran, while accepting a civilian capability.

Assuming that American policy eventually shifts back in line with American and world opinion, I think that either Royal or Bayrou would, on paper, be the best partner for working towards peace and stability in the region. Still there's something about Sarkozy's dynamism that I find appealing. And despite his reputation for being provocative and reckless, he's known as an effective negotiator. If he does end up being a voice of moderation, his opinion might carry more weight with America and Israel, coming from a friend, than the same opinion coming from Royal or Bayrou.

Tomorrow: some of the issues on the French domestic scene that are driving the campaign.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   La Presidentielle   

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Taking Down The Veep

Here's a thought: It's clear that impeaching Bush is a non-starter. But remember that Senate investigation on pre-War intelligence? The one where in exchange for greenlighting a preliminary report scapegoating the various spook agencies for bad intelligence, Senate Dems wrangled a follow-up investigation (yet to happen) on how the administration manipulated the intelligence to make their case for war?

Well, it's always been pretty clear to people who followed it closely that the Iraq misinformation campaign was run out of the Office of the Vice President. So what if instead of going after the follow-up investigation in committee, Congressional Dems use an impeachment proceeding against Dick Cheney to shine some light on the matter? Given his polling numbers, Congressional Republicans don't have much to gain by sticking their necks out for him, and he can't be wrapped in the commander-in-chief blanket like Bush can. So I imagine he'd make a vulnerable target. It would be an extremely aggressive way for the legislative branch to make it clear that there are consequences for executive overreach. And it would have the added advantage of depriving Bush of his hit man, which usually reveals bullies for the cowards they are.

Finally, the timing couldn't be better, since it might keep the administration from pulling pages out of that particular playbook to start a war with Iran. What do you say? Can it fly?

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Politics   

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