Friday, February 03, 2006

What can you buy for $100,000/minute?

Hint: It resembles a quagmire, is extremely unpopular, has led to thousands upon thousands of deaths, both American and not, and has prompted the White House to engage in shameless misinformation and revisionism.

Yes, my friends, it's the Iraq War. And if you're American, that's your money going to pay for Bush's little expedition into the abyss of military preemption and regime change.


The Seattle Times (from the L.A. Times) reports on the cost of the Iraq War -- you might want to sit down for this one:

The White House said Thursday that it plans to ask Congress for an additional $70 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, driving the cost of military operations in the two countries to $120 billion this year, the highest ever.

Most of the new money would pay for the war in Iraq, which has cost an estimated $250 billion since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The additional spending, along with other war funding the Bush administration will seek separately in its regular budget next week, would push the price tag for combat and nation-building since Sept. 11, 2001, to nearly a half-trillion dollars, approaching the inflation-adjusted cost of the 13-year Vietnam War.

The cost of military operations in 2006 is $35 billion higher than what Congress had estimated a few months ago that the Defense Department would need this year. The higher costs are occurring even as the Pentagon is planning to reduce troop levels in Iraq in coming months, reflecting the continuing wear and damage to military equipment in desert combat, the need to upgrade protection for U.S. troops and the effort to train and equip Iraqi forces.

And, breaking it down:

Currently, the Defense Department says it is spending about $4.5 billion a month on the conflict in Iraq, or about $100,000 per minute.

Current spending in Afghanistan is about $800 million a month, or about $18,000 per minute.

So there you go. The numbers more or less speak for themselves, no?

(What would you do with $100,000/minute?)

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Egyptian ferry sinks in Red Sea

From the N.Y. Times: "An Egyptian ferry carrying more than 1,400 people, most of them Egyptian laborers returning from Saudi Arabia, sank early today in rough seas about 40 miles off the coast of Egypt, and by late evening only 314 survivors had been rescued."

Absolutely horrible.

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Untruthful container of canine feces

I've been meaning to do a round-up of reaction to Tuesday's SOTU, but Bush's address was so forgettable that, well, I've more or less forgotten about it, content in retrospect to leave it to the existential dustbin of meaninglessness (or the meaningless dustbin of existence -- whichever).

All I remember is something about, uh, the march of freedom and oil addiction and isolationism and re-authorizing the Patriot Act and two of dad's favourite people and guest workers and switch grass and, uh, human-animal hybrids. And that just lost me. (You can find my immediate response to the SOTU here. I take none of it back.)

Here, by the way, was perhaps the worst of many bad sentences: "[Many Americans] are concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage." In one single line, Bush dismissed the scandals that have wormed their way throughout his own party, attacked liberals, and singled out gays and lesbians as lesser citizens unworthy of equal rights.

Welcome to the world of compassionate conservatism...

Anyway, about that round-up. I just don't have either the energy or the inclination. Besides, my good friend Joe Gandelman has already done an excellent one -- see here.

Oh, and that oil addition thing? You know, how America will reduce its dependence on Middle East oil? Apparently it was all a lie.

So what else is new?


Note: The title of this post is a sanitized version of a line that my viewing companion, a young woman experiencing her very first SOTU, uttered after one of Bush's many examples of misinformation. I forget which one. Think, "Lying sack of..." I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Boehner is the new DeLay

It was something of an upset, but John Boehner (pronounced "Bayner," not "Boner") is the new House majority leader. The Washington Post reports:

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who ran an insurgent campaign calling for change in the face of a widening corruption scandal, was elected [Thursday] to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) as House majority leader in an upset over the acting majority leader.

Boehner's victory over Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a longtime DeLay ally, stunned even the Ohioan, said House members attending the closed-door election. It sent a clear signal that most House Republicans were eager for a relatively fresh face to lead the party in an election year when the GOP's decade-long control of the House is under threat.

Blunt was up 110-79 over Boehner on the first ballot, with John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) in third with 40 votes. But Shadegg's support went over to Boehner, who overtook Blunt and won 122-109 on the second ballot (yes, Blunt lost a vote).

As one who supports the Democrats, I wish Blunt had won, as it would have been much easier to paint him as DeLay II. But for the sake of the ethics of the House, for the sake of the health of American politics, I suppose it's better that Boehner prevailed.

But now we'll see how Boehner, who rose to prominence in the '90s under Gingrich's leadership but who retreated under DeLay, will lead a Republican caucus that has been brought low by scandal, that is deeply divided over issues like immigration, and that faces a tough election year ahead.

Clearly, it's a tough job.


Around the blogosphere:

Shakespeare's Sister: "So what’s Boehner’s story? Rated 0% by NARAL, 7% by the ACLU, 17% by the NEA, 5% by the LCV, 0% by APHA, 7% by the AFL-CIO, 0% by the ARA, and 91% by the Christian Coalition. So anti-choice, anti-civil rights, anti-education, anti-environmental protection, anti-public health, anti-labor, and anti-seniors, but he loves the baby Jesus."

Nice, eh?

The Next Hurrah: "Why should we expect John Boehner to be a sincere advocate of Congressional lobbying reform, when he’s done nothing to advocate or implement reform among his fellow Ohio Republicans, possibly the most corrupt bunch of Republicans in the country?"

We shouldn't.

See also Booman Tribune, Daily Kos, and Wonkette.

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SOTU, Icelandic-style

Okay, Iceland isn't really a union, but there's clearly much more to it than Bjork and Sigur Ros...

Over at Scriptoids, a good blog that I've only recently discovered but will certainly continue to read, Grace Nearing links to (and quotes extensively from) a recent policy address by the Rt. Hon. Halldor Asgrimsson, Prime Minister of Iceland.

It's more or less Iceland's "State of the Union".

And it's quite incredible. It opens with poetry, but just consider how it ends: "Distinguished Speaker, the heartbeat of the nation is strong. The politician’s role is to listen and interpret this heartbeat and to clear the way to harness this power. This, I consider to be my main objective."

Is that not an exceptional explanation of the nature of democratic leadership, a brilliant expression of the democratic spirit?

Can you imagine Bush saying anything like that?

No, nor can I.


Grace's post is here. The full text of the speech (in English) is here.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Google in the crosshairs

Last week, as some of you may remember, I wrote a post on Google's decision to censor itself in China in return for access to a huge, growing market. You can find that post here.

Reaction in the blogosphere was fierce and overwhelmingly anti-Google. And I agree to this extent: Google's decision to censor itself is both hypocritical, given its opposition to governmental interference in the United States, and a reflection of unabashed greed.

And I agree further that China's totalitarian regime is reprehensible and that we need to take a tougher stance on China regarding trade, investment, relations with Taiwan (which we should continue to support), and, of course, human rights.

Yet I suggested in my post that there could yet be unintendedly positive consequences to Google's presence in China, even under censorship. If the internet is a liberating medium (which it is), then China is better off with it than without it. Or, I should say, the Chinese people, not to mention democratic elements pursuing reform in China, are better off with it than without it. And Google, let's face it, is essential to the internet. That is, the service it provides, a search engine for the dissemination of information, is essential.

No, the Chinese won't be able to Google, say, Tienanmen Square or Falun Gong. And that's not good. They deserve to know what happened in Tienanmen Square and what Falun Gong is all about. Indeed, they must know. But, for now, what if, say, a young Chinese boy wants to Google, oh, Yao Ming. Wouldn't his virtual interaction with the West via a Chinese NBA star not be to his benefit? And what if millions of Chinese boys were to Google Yao Ming? Wouldn't they learn something of his life in America? Wouldn't they learn something of America?

Well, ultimately, it won't just be Yao anymore. It'll be Tienanmen Square and Falun Gong. Even the most totalitarian of regimes (and China isn't quite North Korea), after all, cannot completely shut off the flow of information from the outside.

In this sense, Google's censored presence in China may yet be the thin end of a wedge that is essential to opening up China to alternatives to its brutal totalitarianism. I'm not suggesting that Google, a business focused on its bottom line and certainly without the purest of motivations, will be leading the revolution -- but wouldn't that be a good thing?


On Saturday, The Boston Globe published an article by one of its technology reporters, Hiawatha Bray, on the blogosphere's reaction to Google's decision. I'm pleased to let you know that the article quotes me and refers to The Reaction. You can find the article here.

Update: My new friend Linkmeister (he of his excellent eponymous blog) informs me that I've also been quoted in Time's Blogwatch column. You can find it here.

Unfortunately, neither the Globe nor Time links back here, but, well, who knew that my unconventional defence of Google would attract such attention?

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The state of Bush's America

I cannot even begin to tell you how angry Bush's SOTU speech made me. It was a blatant attempt at moral grandeur, and no doubt his own kind bought it all, but it was really nothing more than hollow, manipulative rhetoric dressed up to look and sound impressive. (The full transcript of the speech is here.)

He once again linked 9/11 to Iraq, closed off debate where debate could challenge his facile worldview and failed policies, vilified his opponents as somehow unpatriotic, justified unethical and perhaps illegal conduct, reduced complex issues down to a state of black-and-white polarization, glossed over his own and his administration's mismanagement of affairs domestic and foreign, and, as usual, offered nothing in the way of concrete solutions to America's, and the world's, problems.

Once again he divided America, played to that division, and proved to be nothing but a partisan idealist masquerading as the bringer of democracy and freedom, the harbinger of some utopian future.

Some will say -- to borrow one of Bush's own straw-man tactics -- some will say that he was bold, resolute, presidential. Some will say that he said all the right things, pointing America in the right direction, the right leadership in troubled times.

But some, them, are wrong. Look past the superficial. Look at what was really there, what he really said, and what he didn't.

Is America a great country? Yes. My criticism of Bush should never be taken for criticism of America. But what of the state of Bush's America? Is it strong? Where it is strong, it is strong in spite of Bush. But, overall, the State of the Union would be a lot stronger without the leadership, or lack thereof, of this president.

Simply, it is time to move on, past the divisiveness and political mismanagement of the past five years. President Bush may have three years left in office, but America needs new leadership if she is to be truly strong again.


There will be a lot of reaction in the blogosphere to tonight's SOTU. I encourage you to check out the many great blogs in my blogroll over on the right sidebar. I'll have more reaction of my own tomorrow, once the speech sinks in and I've given it more thought, with a round-up of reaction from around the blogosphere.

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The sudden demise of Quebecois separatism

According to a new poll, support for independence in Quebec has plummeted to 34 percent since last week's federal election. Support stood at 43 percent before the election.

What's the truth? Somewhere in between.

If I may put it simply, there are (and have been for some time) two dominant visions of Canadian federalism, one Liberal and one Conservative. The Liberal vision is the vision of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a vision of Canada as a centralized social democracy with official bilingualism and multiculturalism, with a strong sense of unitary Canadian nationalism. The Conservative vision is the vision of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a vision of Canada as a decentralized federation with expansive provincial powers and strong regional identification. The Liberal vision incorporates Quebec into an overarching definition of Canadian nationhood. The Conservative vision holds that Quebec has a distinct identity and deserves a distinct Constitutional status within the structure of Canadian federalism.

Both visions have their admirers and proponents both in Quebec and throughout the rest of Canada. The Liberal vision, after all, was expounded by Trudeau and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, both from Quebec. However, federalism in Quebec is different than federalism in the rest of Canada. Although there are hardcore federalists in the Liberal tradition, perhaps most of Quebec's federalists are, in a way, soft nationalists. That is, federalists who want Quebec to remain in Canada but who promote the idea of Quebecois distinctness. Even Quebec's ruling Liberal Party is more like the federal Conservative Party than the federal Liberal Party -- Premier Jean Charest is a former leader of the federal Conservative Party.

What this means is that many Quebecois federalists are attracted more to the Conservative vision than to the Liberal vision. And, with the resurgence of the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, these federalists finally had an alternative to the Liberal Party other than the separatist Bloc Quebecois. They may have voted for the Bloc in protest to Liberal hegemony, but now they see the viability of the alternative federalist vision of the Conservatives.

And, last week, the Conservative Party broke through in Quebec and won 10 of its 75 seats, up from no seats in 2004. Paul Martin's Liberal Party was reduced to 13 seats from 21 in 2004.

So why has support for separatism fallen? Many in Quebec were frustrated both with Charest's provincial government and the scandal-ridden Chretien-Martin regime in Ottawa. In frustration, they turned to the Bloc and began to ponder independence from a Canada that didn't seem, to them, to respect Quebec's distinctness (even though both Chretien and Martin are from Quebec, even though their governments were disproportionately Quebecois).

Now, ironically enough, the alternative has been re-presented to them by a new prime minister from, of all places, Calgary. With Harper's victory and the Conservative breakthrough in Quebec, Western alienation meets Quebecois nationalism -- and, for now, many in Quebec seem to be willing to give those two oddly similar movements a chance to co-exist.

I am generally a Liberal and my vision for Canada is generally the Liberal one (although I was born and raised in Montreal and do not reject outright the Conservative vision). But if one good can come of Harper's victory and his new Conservative government, let it be the demise of Quebecois separatism and the rise of federalism, any federalism, in Quebec.

More than anything else, I am, after all, a Canadian.

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French philosophers have no chest hair

So this man -- the French "philosopher" Bernard-Henri Levy, a self-styled Tocqueville cluelessly and hyperbolically revelling in stereotype and superficiality -- thinks he knows America?

Well, see Garrison Keillor's review of Levy's American Vertigo here. See also the interesting exchange at Slate between Alan Wolfe and Franklin Foer here.

At least Levy doesn't hate America. And at least some of what he writes about America is on the mark -- provocative, if not entirely satisfying.

If interested, you can find his book here (and other Amazons around the world).

But, as they say, caveat lector.

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Scalitovision 2006: No filibuster for Sammy A.

Alas, the filibuster has gone down:

Republican senators, aided by 19 Democrats, cleared the path yesterday for Samuel A. Alito Jr. to join the Supreme Court and for President Bush to put his stamp firmly on the nine-member bench.

The Senate voted 72 to 25 to end debate on Alito's nomination and to allow a roll call on his confirmation today, shortly before noon. Alito's supporters garnered a dozen more votes than the 60 they needed to choke off a Democratic filibuster effort, which would have allowed debate to continue indefinitely.

As some of you know, I supported the effort to filibuster the Alito nomination -- see here and here. After supporting Roberts last year, I simply could not look past Alito's overt extremism on executive power and his covert (and sometimes not-so-covert) extremism on key social issues like abortion. Alito has been brilliantly packaged to look like a modest, kind-hearted (dare I say compassionate?) conservative who will simply examine the law and interpret the Constitution with care and an open mind, but he is in reality a blank check for the imperial aspirations of Bush and Cheney. And his nomination is the latest blatant example of conservative court-packing.

And where were the Democrats? Or, rather, who were the Democrats who stood idly by (or perhaps cowering in a corner somewhere) while Alito was rammed through the Senate? Well, see Digby at Hullabaloo. Atrios lists the 25 here (cheers). Booman Tribune lists the others here (jeers).

And, for more, see Political Animal, The Heretik, The Left Coaster, Seeing the Forest, The Agonist, and Firedoglake. And go through my blogroll of liberal blogs -- all highly recommended -- to survey what others in the liberal blogosphere are saying. I don't think anyone's particularly happy tonight.

In the end, like Jane at Firedoglake, I give out a big thank you to John Kerry.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who will be leader of the Grits? The race begins...

Just two days following the election, and the fall of the Liberal government, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna, resigned from his post in Washington.

What does this mean?

First of all, such a move is not unexpected. As he stated in his letter, "this position is based on the ability to work intimately with the Canadian Government" and requires strong ties with the Prime Minister. He was appointed by Paul Martin approximately a year ago, and so it's likely that Stephen Harper would have eventually removed McKenna and replaced him with someone whose views are closer to his own.

But that's not all. Even before the announcement of Paul Martin's resignation as leader of the Liberal Party, McKenna's name was being floated around as a potential candidate, and he is considered now one of the frontrunners in the race for leadership.

However, the debate has turned from who will be running to when the leadership convention will be. Ever since McKenna resigned from his post, the rumours and whispers about the leadership race have been flying fast and furious. The dam has burst, so to speak, and now an argument is raging as to when the convention should be held.

According to the CNews article, dark horse contenders want more time to build their support base (a comparative advantage that the frontrunners already have). The convention is expected to occur anytime between November of this year and March 2007.

Surprisingly, also announced recently, John Manley has dropped himself from the race, stating, "While I hope to play a role in the renewal, healing and unification of the Liberal party, I have decided for personal reasons that I will not be a leadership candidate".

Manley was once the Finance Minister, and later Deputy Prime Minister, under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and he was considered a formidable opponent in the race against Paul Martin for the leadership of the Liberal Party (he later conceded, knowing that he didn't have the numbers to overtake Martin). He was also deemed to be McKenna's toughest competition until he dropped out.

Following him, it seems that Brian Tobin, an ex-Member of Parliament and previous Premier of Newfoundland, would be the next viable competitor (interestingly enough, both he and McKenna were premiers in the Atlantic provinces -- the ex-ambassador was the Premier of New Brunswick from 1987 to 1997).

However, don't discount the others in the leadership race: "Dark horse candidates include former ministers Martin Cauchon, Stephane Dion, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Belinda Stronach, Scott Brison, Ken Dryden, Anne McLellan and Joe Volpe and newcomer Michael Ignatieff, the acclaimed Harvard academic who won his first election Monday."

What some of them lack in profile, they make up for with tenacity and ambition.

However, it's all mere speculation at this point. When asked, all potential candidates have coyly answered that they're currently considering whether or not to run.

Just for interest's sake, check out CBC's "Waiting in the Wings" article on who the major players may be (including profile, advantages, disadvantages, among other things).

On a personal note: I'm very sad to see Paul Martin go. I truly believe that he was dealt a poor hand when he took over as Prime Minister and that he is a genuine and warm person. When we look back at it all, perhaps we'll see that we ousted a leader who was actually more understanding than most Canadians gave him credit for. I might be extremely divisive in saying this, but I think we've truly let someone who was great and could have achieved great things go over overblown media reports and an unfounded desire for change.

Update (30/01/06) - Frank McKenna announced, today, that he is dropping out of the leadership race, and rumour has it that Brian Tobin may soon follow. It comes as a bit of a shock, since both were considered frontrunners, and according to the Canadian Press, this could be the first time in 40 years that the Liberal Party will be without an heir apparent.

This race is about to heat up.

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Putting 9/11 in perspective

My friend Marc ("Creature") over at State of the Day has written an extremely good post putting the horrible events of 9/11 into historical perspective (alongside Joseph Ellis in the Times). You can find his post here. I recommend that you read it in full, but here's a key passage:

Personally I believe the reaction to September 11th by the Bushes has more to do with politics and greed, than it does national security. And this belief is coming from a person who lives in downtown Manhattan, who saw the first plane flying ominously low in the sky, who watched as the throngs of ashen people streamed uptown as I returned downtown after an abbreviated morning at work, who watched from his living room window as the smoke drifted from the site for days, and who had to smell the acerbic stench of the day for weeks afterwards.

I live in Osama's bulls-eye and I have enough perspective to know that, while September 11th was a horrible day, the overreaction and disgusting politicalization of that day just adds insult to injury. George Bush, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney should be embarrassed by their actions.

They should be, but they aren't. And their "disgusting" response to 9/11 is one of main reasons why Bush has been such an abject failure (and a dangerous, divisive one at that) as president.

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