Saturday, March 25, 2006

Iran close to uranium enrichment -- so what do we do now?

According to the L.A. Times, "Iran is moving faster than expected and is just days from making the first steps toward enriching uranium".

What does this mean? -- "If engineers encounter no major technical problems, Iran could manufacture enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb within three years, much more quickly than the common estimate of five to 10 years."

Iran denies that it intends to build nuclear weapons, but its unwillingness to use Russian-enriched uranium (see here) suggests otherwise. The U.S. and the major European powers "believe Iran intends to build nuclear weapons".

Is a diplomatic solution possible? Perhaps, but is Iran even willing to give up control of its nuclear program, or at least over the enrichment of uranium? That seems unlikely, given its moves to date. Could Iran be bought off? Perhaps, but what would it take? North Korea wants aid, that much is clear, but does Iran? In addition, who would lead the diplomatic effort? Whatever consensus there is on the U.N. Security Council is fragile. "The European Union and the Americans want to exert vigorous pressure on Iran... The U.S. and EU are willing to use a U.N. procedure that gives Security Council resolutions the force of law, and to impose sanctions." But "Russia and China would be willing to allow Iran to retain a small cascade of centrifuges for research purposes."

Before there can be a diplomatic solution to this escalating crisis, there needs to be some sort of agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. on one side and Russia and China on the other. Without the latter, forget the former.

Regardless, how long would such diplomacy take? If Iran is already close to being able to enrich its own uranium, there isn't much time. And that -- if we're serious about stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear state -- brings us to the prospect of non-diplomatic measures. And that invariably means either sanctions or military action of some sort.

I'm less and less confident that diplomacy will work. Sanctions won't work if the major powers can't even get on the same page. So are we ready to consider military options, such as tactical strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities?

The U.S. is bogged down in Iraq, to be sure, but the Iranian threat simply cannot be ignored.

(Make sure to read the whole L.A. Times article. This is serious stuff.)

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Protesting in Belarus

It's gone from balloting to protesting in Belarus, as opposition parties and supporters are taking to the streets this weekend -- the anniversary of the establishment of the Belarussian republic in 1918 -- to protest the results of last Sunday's presidential election.

The BBC has the story here, the Post here. My two posts on "Balloting in Belarus" are here and here.

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The internal contradictions of Fairtrade?

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

If you have a half-hour to kill this weekend, I'd suggest tuning into the Food Programme on BBC Radio 4 (available as RealAudio) for a fascinating discussion of the international coffee market, and particularly of the growing embrace of the Fairtrade movement by big-hitters in the coffee business world such as Nestle and Starbucks.

I'm a big supporter of the Fairtrade campaign, and all the coffee (and much of the tea) I've bought in the last 18 months has been Fairtrade-certified. As the movement wins more and more converts, however, I'm wondering if Fairtrade may not suffer from the "internal contradictions" that arise from paying certain farmers above-market prices for their produce. The problem is that these high prices will encourage new entrants into coffee production, which will lead to a glut in supply that pushes global coffee prices down. Those who are already locked into Fairtrade supply contracts will do fine, but those who do not receive the benefit of Fairtrade prices will be made even worse off.

Converting every coffee buyer in the world to the Fairtrade philosophy doesn't necessarily solve the problem either, for you still have the inducement to entry provided by high coffee prices, leading to the same glut of coffee, and to strong incentives for those selling at the lower end of the market to defect out of the Fairtrade movement and reap the benefits of lower coffee prices.

The problem is not unlike that created by the price supports provided by the European Union to its farmers under its Common Agricultural Policy (at a cost of more than €43 billion a year). By offering farmers guaranteed prices for agricultural production that are far in excess of world commodity prices, the CAP encourages massive overproduction of basic agricultural products by the Europeans. The surpluses either accumulate in warehouses or are dumped onto world markets at fire-sale prices that further drive down the world price for agricultural commodities, leading to farm income crises throughout the developing world.

This bleak scenario is still a far way off in the coffee market, since less than one percent of world coffee production adheres to Fairtrade standards, but this possibility is something that the Fairtrade movement should begin to take seriously as the movement grows in popularity. In my opinion, a better way to proceed would be to use a mechanism other than price supports to achieve the Fairtrade movement's goals, such as direct income supports to farmers, or direct investments in health, education, and other social projects in coffee-growing areas around the world.

(Cross-posted at the Dominion Wine and Cheese Society.)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

The sudden demise of Ben Domenech

It seems that everyone who's anyone in the blogosphere is talking about Ben Domenech -- check out Memeorandum. But -- the serious issue of plagiarism aside -- this is nothing more than a case of the blogosphere getting worked up over a non-issue and feeding upon itself to the point of supersaturated self-importance. If there's one lesson to be learned here, it's that bloggers, like regular journalists, love to talk about themselves.

Domenech's a minor conservative celebrity, that's it. He's a Republican activist, he co-founded, and he's now an editor at Regnery, a right-wing publishing house. The Post hired him to write a blog, Red America. Some liked that, some didn't. (I didn't really care.) Accusations of plagiarism emerged -- see Salon. He defended himself, but even Michelle Malkin turned against him. And so he resigned -- from the Post, "effective immediately". The Post's Howard Kurtz has more here.

That's all. So can we stop talking about this now? It's enough already.

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Madeleine Albright and "The Irony of Iran"

In an op-ed in the L.A. Times today, former Secretary of State Albright examines Bush's "worldview" and finds it lacking in complexity, nuance, and, well, reality:

THE BUSH administration's newly unveiled National Security Strategy might well be subtitled "The Irony of Iran." Three years after the invasion of Iraq and the invention of the phrase "axis of evil," the administration now highlights the threat posed by Iran — whose radical government has been vastly strengthened by the invasion of Iraq. This is more tragedy than strategy, and it reflects the Manichean approach this administration has taken to the world.

It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration's penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.

Read on. Her analysis is correct and her three "suggestions" are sound. But I would add this: It's already "too late" for George W. Bush.

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Shift the debate and Republicans lose

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

Republicans have used wedge issues to catapult themselves into power. All of those tax breaks, regulatory rollbacks, and corporate welfare programs that have been doled out to the elite and well-connected could never have occurred without the religious and social conservatives who went to the polls in support of Republican candidates. The problem for Republicans is, most of the social conservatives who helped put them in power are not amongst the connected elite, and while they may agree with Republican rhetoric about gay marriage and abortion, they are being hit just as hard as the rest of us in their pocketbooks. This is exactly what the Democrats need to take advantage of. It’s easy to vote your morality when you have a job, your kids are being educated, you have access to healthcare, and you can keep up with the mortgage payments. When that is no longer the case, social concerns have a way of taking a back seat.

According to a Pew Research Poll released Wednesday, opposition to gay marriage has dropped from 63% in February 2004 to 51% today, and those who said they opposed gay marriage “strongly” has dropped from 42% to 28%. That’s a pretty significant shift in the national attitude on this issue. It may be that the more people think about it the less they care, but it also may be that other issues have been moved to the front burner. Polls consistently show that the war in Iraq, healthcare, jobs, education, and the economy rank highest on the priority list of most Americans. This is good news for Democrats, considering that under total Republican control Iraq is a disaster, healthcare is less affordable and accessible, job creation has been slow or non-existent, public education is withering under No Child Left Behind, and the economy -- well, it may look good on paper, but for average working Americans statistics mean little when they’re working harder for less money since the Republicans took hold of the reigns of power.

Also in the Pew Research Poll were interesting numbers on abortion. While the majority of voters, 58%, oppose a South Dakota-style ban on abortion, most people aren’t paying much attention. Only 28% consider abortion a “critical issue,” and the group most likely to feel this way are white evangelical Protestants. Even amongst those who strongly oppose a ban on abortion, most consider the issue “one of many” or “not that important”. This tells me that Republicans HAVE to talk about abortion, while Democrats don’t: They can say they’re pro-choice and move on. The Democrats are much better off talking about the real issues and disengaging from the wedge-issue discussion all together, or at least only engage in the most dismissive manner possible: “Of course I believe in a woman’s right to choose, now let’s talk about jobs.”

Shifting the debate to what matters most to working people will be a winning strategy for the Democrats and a big loser for Republicans who rely on the crutch of social intolerance to get re-elected. Whether good or bad, most of the country doesn’t care much about abortion or gay marriage, although they do tend to fall more on the side of civil unions and a woman’s right to choose. That should tell the Democrats that they have taken the right position on both all along and that now they must focus on the issues that are concerning voters most: health care, family-wage jobs, birth to college education, retirement security, and making sure that all of those things are available to all of our citizens so that poverty is no longer our dirty little secret and dignity in life is secured for every American.

Let the Republicans ply their base with rhetoric. They’ll turn off the moderate voters all by themselves -- no need to join them in alienating the majority of the country. Better to stand back and give those moderates a place to go. And we don’t have to move to the right to attract middle America. They are already on their way over, driven in our direction by a Republican Party with only the fear and intolerance card left to play. It may have worked for them in the past, but it looks like it might finally be played out.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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The truth about the reconstruction of Iraq

Here's an amusing photo of CPA chief L. Paul Bremer. Amusing -- if only the context weren't so bleak. Once again, I wonder what's going through his head. What's he thinking? Anything? Go on, play fill in the bubble.


More to the point:

At Newsweek, Michael Hirsh (who provides us with yet another must-read) looks at the recent re-emergence of Andrew Natsios, the former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who is now a professor at Georgetown and, since just recently, a harsh critic of "the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq occupation": "In an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, he harshly criticized the Coalition Provisional Authority led by L. Paul Bremer III for botching the reconstruction effort and allowing ill-qualified or corrupt contractors to dominate it."

More and more, the truth is coming out. However fabricated the case for going to war may have been, and however much that debate still rages, the undeniable truth, it seems to me, is that the reconstruction of Iraq -- more broadly, the occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces and civilian authorities -- has been an abject failure. Natrios once seemed like little more than an apologist for the war, a purveyor of the sunny Wolfowitzian optimism that was quickly overcome by the realities on the ground. But now, better late than never, he's as good an authority there is on just what went wrong and why.

Hirsh: "Natsios’s criticisms mark another significant milestone in the great Republican crackup over Iraq—especially since they came on the same day that President Bush reiterated, at a news conference, that he would not ask any senior staff to resign in connection with the mess in Mesopotamia. The president’s refusal to consider replacing senior officials, especially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has angered many Republicans, as well as Democrats, who say the administration needs to show a sense of accountability for its many mistakes in Iraq. At the very least, Natsios’s criticisms represent the latest effort by a Bush supporter to distance himself from America's new quagmire."

Will more supporters emerge from the political quagmire that this war has become? Other than his long-time pals and most ardently thoughtless apologists, will Bush have anyone left on his side now that the war, if you'll pardon the expression, is blowing up in his face, both over there and over here?

What will Bush's approval rating be -- what will his legacy be -- once the truth comes out in full?

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The party of unlimited government

Guest post by Right Democrat

(Ed. note: This is the first of what I hope are many guest posts by some of our favourite bloggers, intelligent voices from different corners of the blogosphere. Right Democrat is a blog for "conservative and moderate Democrats" that focuses on "the concerns of working and middle class Americans". The author, who posts by that name, is a social conservative and economic populist. He believes that Democrats must "embrace mainstream values" and again "become the party of working families". I am neither socially conservative nor economically populist, but it is important to listen to and respect different viewpoints within our party, and I think it's important to present some of those viewpoints here at The Reaction. We are, after all, a big tent, and we must remain so. I hope you like this post and I encourage you to check out Right Democrat regularly. -- MJWS)


Michael Hayes, a professor of political science at Colgate University, has another insightful column at Democrats.US. Dr. Hayes makes an excellent point that Democrats can and should be the party of government activism but all too often are seen instead as the party of "unlimited government." With a growing concentration of power in Washington which has taken place under Republican rule, a case can be made that the Republican Party has become "the party of unlimited government." The Bush Administration and the Republican Congressional leadership have certainly lost all credibility on financial matters and Democrats have the opportunity now to emerge as the party of fiscal responsibility. Still, there are lingering perceptions about Democrats and the role of government that need to be addressed if we are again to become the majority party.

Government plays a critical role in society; however, we need to keep in mind that its powers can be abused and that this important institution exists to serve the public. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi helped to perpetuate stereotypes about our party favoring "unlimited government" when she opposed efforts in Congress to discourage municipalities from using eminent domain to take private homes for economic development following last year's Supreme Court ruling which affirmed such practices. A more appropriate response to the court ruling came from fellow California Democrat Maxine Waters. Representative Waters joined in sponsoring legislation to ban federal Community Development Block Grant funds from any city that fails to prohibit such seizures of private homes for private development purposes. From the Los Angeles Times: "It's like undermining motherhood and apple pie," Waters was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. "I mean, people's homes and their land -- it's very important, and it should be protected by government, not taken for somebody else's private use."

A knee jerk opposition by Democrats on matters such as experimenting with school vouchers, charter schools, and faith-based initiatives can leave the impression that we are more focused on catering to narrow constituencies than on meeting educational challenges or social services needs in a creative manner.

Democrats also must take the lead in reinventing government to make it more efficient and customer-oriented. For example, there is no reason that government agencies cannot be open more flexible hours to serve the public. One of the 12 points of the U.S. House Blue Dog Coalition is to instill greater accountability in federal agencies. The Blue Dog plan would require agencies to put their fiscal houses in order. According to the non-partisan Government Accounting Office, 16 of 23 major federal agencies cannot issue a simple audit of their books, and the federal government cannot account for $24.5 billion it spent in 2003. The Blue Dogs have proposed a budget freeze for any agency that cannot properly balance its books.

I can think of two Democratic leaders from the past who point the way to how Democrats can support activist and efficient government. The late Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois, a traditional New Deal Democrat, often admonished his colleagues that "to be a liberal, one does not have to be a wastrel. We must, in fact, be thrifty if we are to be really humane." Democrats need to be leading efforts to make government work effectively to provide services and enforce regulations to protect workers and consumers. During his long Senate career, the late Senator William Proxmire was a strong believer in activist government and yet a zealous opponent of bureaucratic waste. Proxmire introduced the "Golden Fleece" awards, which exposed wasteful practices in government. Proxmire noted that "highlighting specific, single wasteful expenditures is more effective than simply complaining in a general way about government waste."

Given the lack of fiscal responsibility and abuse of power by the Republicans, Democrats have the opportunity to make the case that with proper leadership our government can be more responsive to public needs.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Balloting in Belarus (update)

This past Sunday, I reported on the tainted presidential election in Belarus -- see here. Leading opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich called the election "a complete farce" and demanded a re-vote.

Since then, protests have continued, in the streets. President Alexander Lukashenko, an old-style authoritarian, promised to crack down on protesters. And he has. Here's an update from the BBC: "Riot police in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, have broken up a five-day demonstration against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. More than 100 troops poured into the central square and loaded protesters onto waiting trucks."

The protests have been small -- "about 150 demonstrators were in the square when it was cleared in less than 20 minutes" -- but "this has been an unprecedented protest for Belarus". And this isn't over. Milinkevich has said that "a huge demonstration" is being planned for this Saturday. Lukashenko will no doubt crack down on that one, too, but dissent is now out in the open and the reform movement seems to have confidence and determination.

This may or may not be the time for revolution -- I hope it is, but I wonder if Belarus is ready (Lukashenko is very much in control and his huge electoral win, corruption notwithstanding, suggests that his popular support is strong) -- but at least the possibility of revolution is now out there, personified by the courageous protesters in Minsk.

It is that spirit, the liberal spirit, that will ultimately lead Belarus out of the abyss of tyranny and into the promised land of democracy.

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Karl Rove and the magicians of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

This photo of Karl Rove, with Senators Santorum and Allen in the foreground, accompanies a ridiculously superficial piece on possible White House personnel moves at The New York Times. The point, such as there is one: Things aren't going well in Bush's lamest of lame-duck presidencies. Bush has hinted there may soon be a high-level addition to his White House staff (names like Racicot, Evans, and Gillespie are out there). But will there be? And what would such an addition mean for Rove and Card?

Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.
Yadda. Yadda.

I tend to agree with our co-blogger Creature -- see his post on this at State of the Day.

But you know what's going on, don't you? This is how magicians work (and Rove is widely seen as the political magician par excellence). Their "magic" consists of being able to pull off a trick by diverting your attention to something that has nothing to do with the trick itself. Hence all this Beltway speculation of personnel moves. Do Americans really care? No. Only political junkies do. Only the most determined of White House watchers. And the White House, which faces nothing but bad news on a daily basis, must be quite happy that some of that media attention (and hence some of the public's attention) is being diverted away from all that bad news, much of it coming out of Iraq, not to mention the complete absence of a domestic agenda, Bush's ever-sinking approval ratings, and the sheer lame-duckness of this utter failure of a presidency.

Do you doubt that this is a strategy? Do you doubt that Bush wants us to talk about his staff instead of his incompetence, instead of the mess he's made? Then why would he even drop the bomb that he's thinking of adding someone? Whatever this White House's incompetence in terms of policy, it knows what it's doing in terms of communication. It knows how important the message is. It knows how easily our attention -- or, rather, the attention of our news media, the attention of Washington's chattering class -- can be manipulated.

Well, don't let them do it. If Bush adds a Racicot or a Gillespie, so what? It'll still be the presidency of George W. Bush. And that, my friends, has been nothing short of a disaster.


On another note, here's a question for you: What do you think's going through Rove's mind here? (Go ahead, write your own bubble.) I'm actually hoping he's pondering how great an Allen-Santorum ticket would be in '08, jotting down all the pros and cons and already beginning to outline a campaign strategy. How great would that be? A presidential campaign of nothing but football metaphors and homophobia. I'm sure it's right up Rove's alley. And the base would love it.

Good times for the GOP.

(Also, look at their ties. Is green the new red? If so, could someone forward me the memo?)

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John Boehner is a dangerous idiot

Jon Stewart played the clip during his interview segment with Senator Feingold last night. Keep in mind that John Boehner is the House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay's successor, not some mentally disconnected and politically disempowered freak show on the fringes of the Republican House caucus.

Boehner on Feingold (quoted here): "Sometimes you begin to wonder if he's more interested in the safety and security of the terrorists as opposed to the American people."

Yup, this is what it's come to, a direct application of the patriotism-terrorism card. If you're with us, you're a patriot; if you're against us, you're a terrorist. That's it. They can't defend their own policies and they can't rebut criticism of those policies on the merits. So they get dirty. And, in this case, they hurl the ultimate slur of post-9/11 America: Feingold is providing aid and comfort to terrorists at the expense of the security of the American people.

I'm sorry, but this is fucking ridiculous. I know that Republicans can be so predictable, and I'm hardly surprised by this latest effort to discredit Senator Feingold, but this is utterly reprehensible.

Utterly fucking reprehensible.

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Feingold on Stewart


Check The Daily Show and Crooks and Liars for video if and when it becomes available.

Jon on Feingold's censure resolution: "This feels like some attempt at accountability." Sometimes no one says it better than Jon Stewart. He's exactly right.


C&L has the latest anti-Feingold GOP ad here -- yes, he's being swift-boated.

And, tip o' the hat to C&L once again, see this brilliant post by Glenn Greenwald here. It's our Must-Read of the Day, and here's a key passage:

It may be the case that in 2003, there was a rational argument to make that political calculations militated against standing up to the President's law-breaking. The fantasies of Bush followers notwithstanding, it is not 2003 anymore. It is long past time for Democrats to stand up to and firmly oppose the most radical elements of this Administration. And there are few elements more radical than the President's deliberate decision to break the law.

Which is precisely what Jon Stewart was getting at.

Democrats? Anyone?

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Basque separatists declare ceasefire

And now for some important international content from Spain. The BBC reports: "The Basque separatist group Eta has declared a permanent ceasefire. Eta is blamed for killing more than 800 people in its four-decade fight for independence for the Basque region of northern Spain and south-west France. In a statement released to Basque media, the group said its objective now was 'to promote a democratic process in the Basque country'."

You can find more on Eta here. You can find its ceasefire declaration here. You can find some Spanish and international reaction here.

And you can find an update, with reaction from Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, here. Zapatero is right: The road to peace will surely be "long and difficult". But at least there is now the prospect of a peaceful resolution to this situation.

Let's hope Eta is sincere. And let's hope the peace process begins in earnest.

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The hypocrisy of religion-based Republican pork

Here's yet another entry in The Annals of Duh (maybe a new series at The Reaction?). Republicans are porking it up big-time with their supporters, throwing millions and millions and millions at the socially conservative (and largely religious) base. The Washington Post has the details:

For years, conservatives have complained about what they saw as the liberal tilt of federal grant money. Taxpayer funds went to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs.

In the Bush administration, conservatives are discovering that turnabout is fair play: Millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have flowed to groups that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues.

Under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies, according to federal grant documents and interviews.

Does this surprise you? If so, have yourself checked for dementia. This is Big Government Republicanism we're talking about, and conservatives are more than happy to lap it up, to suck at the eternal teat of Washingtonian largesse. Oh, and it helps to be able to buy off your supporters. Keep 'em knee-deep in the gravy and you're sure to benefit at the ballot box.



Steve Benen calls it "[s]hameless," which it is. (Shame runs on short supply in them parts.) Ezra Klein calls the flow of cash in support of "the right wing's most reactionary agenda items" all "rather unsurprising," which it also is. Pam Spaulding predicts "[t]his gravy train won't end any time soon," which it won't.

See also Frederick Maryland on the selective compassion of "compassionate conservatism" and Pamela Leavey on "slush funds".

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Immigration and citizenship: Hillary Clinton's stand against xenophobic nationalism

Much to her credit, Hillary Clinton has refused to sign on to the xenophobic nationalism of the Tancredo set. More, she'll fight against any such anti-immigrant, anti-immigration legislation in the Senate. From Newsday:

Clinton joined immigration advocates Wednesday to vow and block legislation seeking to criminalize undocumented immigrants... Clinton renewed her pledge to oppose a bill passed in December by the House that would make unlawful presence in the United States -- currently a civil offense -- a felony. The Senate is set to consider a version of that legislation...

Among other things, Clinton said she would support legislation that would strengthen U.S. borders, boost technology to secure the borders, and seek greater cross-border cooperation with Mexico and other neighboring countries. She also called for new enforcement laws, including penalties for employers who exploit illegal immigrants, as well as a system to allow the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States to earn their citizenship.

Immigration could turn out to be one of the bigger and most divisive campaign issues both this year and in '08. President Bush, who supports a guest-worker program, faces challenges from anti-immigration radicals within his own party. If there's one issue where I find myself in at least partial agreement with him, this is it, although it's not as if he has the political capital to withstand Congressional efforts to build Fortress America. For that, we'll need the full force of the Democratic Party and those Republican dissidents who refuse to play this nasty game.

Senator Clinton is surely looking ahead to '08, but let's not be so cynical. She's on the right side of this issue, and I applaud her efforts.

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New Mexico Democrats call for impeachment of President Bush

No, it won't lead to anything, but... wow:

The New Mexico Democratic Party is calling for President Bush's removal from office.

Party Chairman John Wertheim said Tuesday that delegates to Saturday's state party convention supported a call for the president's impeachment largely because of "perceived abuses of power and corruption in the Bush administration."

He listed as examples of abuses of power, warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens, the misstatement of facts preceding the invasion of Iraq, and the scandal surrounding the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide in connection with the leak of the identity of a covert CIA operative.

"Everyone understands President Bush is not going to be impeached," Wertheim said. "But these abuses of power and corruption in the administration are deeply serious matters and there should be more talk about this abuse of power."

The one-sentence amendment, added from the floor to the platform's section on political and election reform, reads: "Resolved, that the Democratic Party of New Mexico supports the impeachment of President George Bush and his lawful removal from office."

This isn't just some small town in Vermont populated by Ben and Jerry clones. This is a state party. Bill Richardson's state party. And give these Democrats credit: They're realistic enough to see that Bush likely won't be impeached -- Republicans control Congress and I'm not convinced that enough Congressional Democrats would even want to go there (I'm not even convinced that I would want to go there) -- but they're also concerned about the danger posed to American democracy by Bush's reckless and foolhardy presidency.

Republicans will argue that this is yet another example of Democratic extremism. Some Democrats may see it as a Feingoldian subject-changer, a weapon for Republicans to use against Democrats. Personally, I think all this talk of impeachment is rather premature and not terribly productive. But I also think that there needs to be a serious national discussion about Bush's abuse of power.

That would be the truly American thing to do.

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Blame the media

By Creature

It's not rabbit season. It's not duck season. It's not even Whittington season. There is hunting going on and it's the media that needs endangered species status. While there is nothing new about the administration blaming the media for creating a false impression of the reality that is Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld surely never misses an opportunity to take a swipe. There is a new, more aggressive attack afoot and this one appears to be more lethal than Operation Swarmer ever hoped to be. From the Vice President this past Sunday on Face the Nation whining about perception -- because you know the reality he recounts is accurate, last throes included -- to the President purposefully calling on Helen Thomas to create a clear target for the Right to focus it's media anger. Throw in a little Today Show hacking with Laura Ingraham and you have a lethal combination. The media war is on. After all, we know that if the Iraq war is lost, it's the media who lost it. Failed, over optimistic, incompetent policy had absolutely nothing to do with it.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Blogging at the One America Committee

I'm very happy to let you all know that I've been asked to be a featured blogger at Senator John Edwards's One America Committee, specifically at the One America Committee Blog. It is truly an honour. Although I don't want to endorse any one Democrat over any other at the moment, I have long admired Senator Edwards. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the Kerry-Edwards campaign in '04, and he and his family, as well as many of their supporters, are doing interesting and important work, fighting the good fight for working families, social justice, and a better America. You can find more information at the OAC's main website here.

My first post at the OAC Blog, on the three-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War (cross-posted here at The Reaction yesterday morning), is here. My second is tentatively scheduled for early next week, and I hope to contribute quite regularly thereafter. The vast majority of my blogging will be here, of course, and I anticipate that all posts I do elsewhere will also appear here.

Anyway, blogging at the OAC is a great opportunity to contribute to and to engage with a vibrant, dynamic online community. I encourage you to check it out. And I encourage you to keep coming back to The Reaction. You'll find all of my posts, but our new co-bloggers, Creature and The (liberal) Girl Next Door, have settled in and are contributing some exceptional posts. We'll be seeing more from Grace on Canadian politics, too, and there'll be some guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers in the days and weeks to come.

So it's an exciting time. I hope you continue to enjoy The Reaction as we get better and better (if I do say so myself), with more and more posts and more and more comments. And I also hope you take the time to check out my blogging at The Moderate Voice and the OAC Blog, as well as the excellent blogs of our co-bloggers. That's a lot to read, I know. I'm just grateful that you've taken the time to visit us here.

And now, on with the show.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Will someone tell the Democrats that the country is trending their way?

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

Democrats on the hill refusing to get behind Senator Feingold’s attempt to censure Bush is just the most recent proof that they are lost at sea, far out of sight of the American people. While navigating the political waters, they need to put away their sextant, join the 21st century, and use the technology at their disposal to check out the national conversation taking place without them on blogs, message boards, and online news outlets. The ship of state under the incompetent stewardship of our current President is heading into dangerous waters, and what we see on the horizon is decidedly not where we want to go.

Just because The Washington Post, The New York Times, Chris Matthews, and CNN aren’t covering the story, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. If you listen to only those voices coming from within the isolated D.C. bubble, Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee for the Democrats, even though most of us out here in the real world have little or no interest in voting for her in the primary. Sure, she seems like a nice lady, we like what she tried to do with healthcare way back when, but we also have watched her move steadily to the right and we know how many people despise her. We are not stupid. We know that the Republicans and the media establishment are ramming her down our throats because she’ll never get above 50% support. Besides, she’s yesterday’s Democrat, and things are looking up for us on the left -- no need to settle this time around.

So far this year, in special elections across the country, Democrats have been doing very well. Hans Johnson at In These Times gives a nice rundown of this new trend in his article, “GOP Trashed In Special Elections.” It seems that even in so-called Republican areas, Democrats are winning elections with solid numbers, even coming out on top in the DeLay-drawn districts of Texas. Democrats may still be in the minority in Congress, but the country is trending their way and they need to stop acting like marginalized losers and start taking control of the message. We’ve seen what the Republicans can do, and we’re not impressed. It's time for the Democrats to shine and remind the country just how good they are at governing, cut those corporate ties, and become the Party of the people again. We’re ready for some real representation. Work for us and you’ve got our vote, whether we’re liberal, moderate, or conservative. Until you can get your tin ears fixed, use your eyes and look around, the tide is turning. Take advantage, we’re begging you, and turn this ship around. We’re tired, seasick, and we want to go home.

(Cross-posted at The (liberal)Girl Next Door.)

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Saddam 9/11 redux

By Creature

The following quote came during a question-and-answer session after yet another speech on the Iraq war.

"I was careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack on America," he said.

Then, Mr. President, let's go back in time and maybe you can explain to me how this was possible:

Nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, says a poll out almost two years after the terrorists' strike against this country.

Of course you were "careful" never to use those exact words. That's because you, your entire administration, and your Kool-Aid-drinking minions were too busy insinuating and speculating a Saddam/al Qaeda link. And the insinuating continues today. Every time you link the Iraq war with the war on terror you continue to propagate the same lie. Iraq had nothing to do with the war on terror. If it did, you would not have had the invasion of Iraq on the table long before 9/11. You were dead-set on going into Iraq and 9/11 gave you the excuse.

And as Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, the mere fact that you were cognizant enough to be "careful" not to say Saddam ordered the 9/11 attacks meant that you were aware of how close you were coming to stating the all-out lie. [Crooks & Liars has the Olbermann video.]

Think Progress, as always, has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Fantasy and reality after three years in Iraq

This past weekend marked the three-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. President Bush marked the occasion by avoiding the use of the word "war". He referred instead to "the beginning of the liberation of Iraq".

Writing in The Washington Post, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was sunny and optimistic. Iraq has come a long way in three years. It has gone from 'brutal dictatorship" to "a permanent government" with "a new constitution". Iraqi security forces are gaining in "size, capability, and responsibility". The terrorists are "losing". Given these successes, given the righteousness of the mission, "there is only one conclusion": "Now is the time for resolve," he argues, "not retreat." Indeed: "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis".

Truly fantastic hyperbole. Clearly, they have not a clue.

It is tempting to believe such good news. If only. Once again -- and this has been the common thread that runs from the build-up to war to the present day -- the leading political architects of the war seem to be fixed in a common state of delusion, unable to make out any semblance of reality through the fog of fantasy. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld...

The Iraq War was initially waged on the basis of faulty and misused intelligence, on the politicization of intelligence, on a plan to fix the intelligence around a pre-conceived policy, on a wholesale fabrication within a post-9/11 culture of fear. It has been conducted with consistent incompetence. And it is now being wound down, almost imperceptibly, without due regard for what's actually happening on the ground, without much concern about what will happen to Iraq once American forces are pulled out.

And yet the battle rages. At Slate, Christopher Hitchens repeats once again why we were right to invade Iraq and Fred Kaplan points out just what when wrong. In the end -- or at least as it stands now -- I agree with Kaplan: "Had different decisions been made at any of these junctures, the war might have gone differently, Iraq might be a different place, and the third anniversary might be a less gloomy occasion."

The war may or may not be just in and of itself and it may or may not have been doomed to failure. Alas, we may never know: The Iraq War has become a quagmire. It is draining American resources, soaking up millions and millions of dollars a day. It is drawing America's attention away from more pressing problems in Iran, North Korea, and Darfur, not to mention on the domestic front. Iraq itself has fallen into civil war, even if those same sunny optimists who claim that all is well deny any such thing. Thousands of American men and women have been killed. Countless Iraqis -- faceless, nameless -- have been killed. Do we have any idea how much havoc has been wreaked on the Iraqi people, what suffering they endure, suffering that doesn't make our 24-hour news cycle, suffering that is conveniently ignored so as to spare us the harsh realities of war? Saddam wreaked his own havoc, of course, but the replacement of tyranny with war, and increasingly with anarchy, hardly provides much comfort that all has been for the best.


For the sake of full disclosure, I should add here that I was at first a supporter of the war. A reluctant supporter, swayed only in the final days, when a diplomaic solution seemed impossible, but a supporter nonetheless. How innocent that time now seems, when so many of us believed what we were told about Saddam's WMDs and Iraq's imminent threat to America. Given all that Saddam had done in the past, including the gassing of his own people and the invasion of Kuwait, was it all that difficult to believe that he was indeed such a threat?

Hardly. And yet...

I, too, was wrong. Three years ago, I was a teaching assistant at the University of Toronto. I took time away from Hobbes and Locke to discuss the war with my students, most of them Canadian. They were almost uniformly against it. More inspections, they said. I should have listened to them more carefully, but I made my case, the case for liberal internationalism, a case based on human rights and the need to rid the Middle East of a brutal tyrant, to liberate the people of Iraq from the shackles of evil. It was very much Tony Blair's case.

And all looked good, at first. Remember those fast-paced days, the days of the embedded reporters capturing the rapid and relatively easy march into Baghdad? It was history in real time. It was a video game on CNN.

But it didn't take long for things to change. I celebrated the removal of Saddam -- and, even today, whatever our negativity, whatever the easy allure of relativism, we ought not underestimate the significance of removing him from power; even Task Force 6-26's Black Room prisoner abuse is minimal compared to what Saddam did -- but I obviously had far too much confidence that the war's architects knew what they were doing, that they were prepared for the occupation, that they would do whatever it took to guide Iraq, now their ward, towards democratic self-government, preferably towards liberal democracy. That was very much my defence when challenged by my students: America will make this work. Sure, it won't be easy to reconstruct Iraq, but failure simply isn't an option. I vehemently opposed Bush in 2000, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After 9/11, we were all together, weren't we?

I turned against the war when it became abundantly clear that it was being grossly mismanaged. I had high hopes for the removal of Saddam, regime change, and the possible democratization of Iraq and, beyond that, the Middle East. And that may still happen -- whatever our skepticism, let's at least acknowledge it as a possibility, however remote. But it's clear that the Bush Administration is very much to blame for what has gone wrong -- and that includes well over 2,000 American deaths. Yet, upon this third anniversary of the start of his war, a war of choice, President Bush won't even use the word "war" to describe what's going on in Iraq. There's no civil war. Apparently, there's no war at all. The war must have ended with the conclusion of major combat operations.

Americans are being led by a cadre of the delusional.


And what now? The deaths will pile up day after day, ours and theirs. 42 today, 55 tomorrow, and so on and so on. Who knows what these numbers mean anymore? A certain desensitization has set in. If you don't have a close friend or relative involved in the war, do you even feel anything? Or is it all just over there?

At home, the politics will continue. In our Crossfire-style political climate, the absolutism will only continue to intensify going into November's midterms. It is all so predictable. Republicans will run from Bush and try to localize the elections even as Bush's apologists (and Bush himself, who apparently focuses these days on nothing but Iraq and the midterms, the two keys to his legacy) pollute the airwaves with their sunny optimism. But conservatives, too, are reconsidering this debacle. More old-fashioned conservatives like George Will, having returned from their self-forgetting sojourn in the thickets of neoconservative idealism, are resurrecting realism and arguing that, well, the war wasn't really a good idea in the first place. Ideologues like Bill Kristol are playing the incompetence card to save the theory from the practice, even as one of their own, Francis Fukuyama, turns against them and their "flawed foreign-policy thinking". And then there's John McCain, who these days is more Bush than Bush, more neoconservative than the neoconservatives. He has his military background and his maverick credentials, but he's also the ultimate loyalist.

And where does that leave Democrats? For us, that's the key question. We saw what Iraq did to John Kerry, the bind that it places on all Democrats. Withdrawal is an option, but what form should that withdrawal take? When, and how much? It does seem that the Iraq War jumped the proverbial shark a long, long time ago, and there may very well be little that the U.S. can do to fix the mess other than to provide continuing security, but this won't be like pulling the last troops out of Saigon. An Iraq with the United States as a largely occupying force is enough of a problem. What will happen to an Iraq without the United States there at all? I'm sure you can all list the undesirable possibilities.

Ultimately, it seems to me, America must lower its expectations and get out when it can. This means continuing to train Iraqi forces, contributing to the construction of a stable physical infrastructure, and providing support for the fledging Iraqi government. It will mean standing aside and allowing the Iraqis to seize their destiny as a nation. The fragile situation in Iraq may spiral out of control, but what other options are there? It is simply no longer realistic to speak of America's occupation as in any way conducive to the long-term success of Iraqi democracy.

For this, President Bush and his allies will no doubt take credit. If, that is, all goes well. Or, rather, if all can be spun to look good. They have so far refused to be held accountable, to take responsibility for the consequences of their preemptive war. Don't look for that to change.

Democrats need to be prepared for this. Although it is the proper role of an opposition party to oppose, they will need to present Americans with leadership on Iraq, with an answer to this question:

If pulling out immediately is not an acceptable option, and if staying in indefinitely is not an acceptable option, how can we balance the need to pull out eventually and to help Iraq prepare itself for self-government without American occupation?

Their electoral success may depend on it.


For now, let me leave you with these questions recently posed by Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report: "As the war begins its fourth year, and the country reflects on the tragic conflict, what are some of your personal reactions? How has the war affected you? How do you think it's affected the country (socially, politically, economically, and with regard to our security)? Will the president's backers ever give up on some of their more ridiculous defenses? What do you see as the long-term consequences of a war that taken more than 2,300 American lives, left more than 17,000 U.S. troops wounded, and now costs about $150 million a day?"

Much to ponder. Take your time.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

War... what war?

Three years in and still no sign that President Bush has any clue.

He claims to be "implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," but he and the war's other leading architects seem to be fixed in a permanent state of delusion, unable to make out any semblance of reality through the fog of fantasy.

What an embarrassment.

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America's Black Room: Iraq, terrorism, and the culture of abuse

Must-read of the day:

The New York Times has published an extremely disturbing report on the activities of a secret military unit known as Task Force 6-26: "As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room... The new account reveals the extent to which the unit members mistreated prisoners months before and after the photographs of abuse from Abu Ghraib were made public in April 2004, and it helps belie the original Pentagon assertions that abuse was confined to a small number of rogue reservists at Abu Ghraib."

Make sure the read the whole thing.


Yes, some who were involved with Task Force 6-26 have been disciplined, yes, the Justice Department is conducting some sort of investigation -- but what kind of a culture, military and political, allows this sort of thing to happen?

It's not enough to say that American abuses are fewer and less brutal than Iraqi abuses under Saddam. As I've argued before, America must be held and must hold itself to a higher standard than that. It must live up to its own principles. And its civilian and military leaders need to be held fully accountable for the abuse of detainees. They, after all, shape the culture of abuse.

The conduct of the Iraq War has been bad enough. How can America possibly present itself as a force for good in the world, how can it possibly hope to win over the hearts and minds of its skeptics and critics, when its very principles are mocked by the perpetuation of such abuse?

If you were on the other side, if you were in their shoes, would you trust the United States?

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Rahm Emanuel and the storytelling of politics

At Newsweek, Jonathan Alter looks at Rahm Emanuel's "discipline," which might just be what the Democrats need to put them over the top this coming November:

Seven months is forever in politics. By fall, the Dubai ports flap will be old news and Karl Rove's "tougher than thou" strategy could be back in the groove. Emanuel knows that if Democrats turn the election into a referendum on how to punish Bush (censure, impeachment) instead of on the Bush record, they'll get clobbered. But election experts are reassessing their earlier predictions, as districts in upstate New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania once thought out of reach for Democrats move into play. Controlling at least one chamber of Congress will give the Democrats the subpoena power necessary to offer some basic accountability. If Rahm Emanuel can pick the lock, he'll help open the door to a long-overdue housecleaning.

If Democrats succeed in nationalizing the midterms, Republicans could be in trouble. Emanuel seems to know what he's doing, but he won't be able to do it alone. Ultimately, the Democrats will need to summon the discipline to avoid internal strife and to define collectively the narrative of corruption and incompetence that has characterized the Bush presidency.

Politics, it seems to me, is often about storytelling. The candidate or the party that tells the best story usually wins. Like it or not, Bush told the best story in 2004, a simple story about terrorism that appealed to post-9/11 fear. Democrats cannot let that happen again. With chapters on Iraq, Katrina, Portgate, illegal wiretapping, K-Street corruption, fiscal mismanagement, and the like, there's really no reason why the Democratic story shouldn't resonate with the electorate this year.

Democrats just need to figure out how best to tell that story.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Balloting in Belarus

Not surprisingly, this weekend's presidential election in Belarus is shrouded in controversy and allegations of corruption. Exit polls indicate that incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko will win with 82% of the vote, but leading opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich has already called for a re-vote. Indeed, Milinkevich has called the election "a complete farce". Early returns put Lukashenko at 89%. The BBC reports here.

This could turn out to be another Ukraine, although Milinkevich denies that he supports any sort of revolution. He wants protests to remain peaceful (as they were in the Ukraine -- I thank Professor Shugart for pointing this out in his comment below). Yet Lukashenko is an old-school authoritarian and Belarus remains one of the least resistent to liberal democracy of all the former Soviet republics.

The BBC, however, reports that Lukashenko has widespread popular support and that he likely would have won even a completely fair election. In Belarus, it seems, post-Soviet tyranny is fine.


The photo above struck me when I first saw it. Is this the face of the Belarus voter? If so, Belarus must be a rather attractive place, soul-crushing authoritarianism notwithstanding. And yet, see these charming photos from the BBC:

You know what, though? Democracy is still a beautiful thing. This election in Belarus may have been corrupt -- and, if so, there does need to be a serious reevaluation of the results (and I wouldn't mind something akin to the Ukraine's Orange Revolution, or whatever is necessary to remove Lukashenko from power) -- but hopefully the people of that downtrodden nation will soon know what it means to vote in a free, fair, and competitive election. For now, though, a democracy that elects an anti-democrat isn't much of a democracy at all.


Update: The BBC (see link above) is reporting that "[p]reliminary official results show President Lukashenko won re-election with 82.6% of the vote". Milinkevich was well back with just 6%. Turnout was 92.6%.

So now what?

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Off a conventional Clift

By Creature

Oh, Eleanor, what happened to you? Have you too made a deal with the conventional wisdom god? Here is Eleanor Clift regarding Senator Feingold's censure resolution:

Republicans finally had something to celebrate this week when Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold called for censuring George W. Bush. Democrats must have a death wish. Just when the momentum was going against the president, Feingold pops up to toss the GOP a life raft. [Read More]

Eleanor, if you weren't trapped in that bubble they call D.C. you would know that maybe only 33% of Republicans had something to celebrate, that no life raft was tossed, and that no momentum shift occurred for GWB. The shift that occurred was in Senator Feingold's favorable ratings from 22% to 52%. The sky hasn't fallen and people are talking about how the President broke the law. Senator Feingold should be applauded for standing up for the rule of law and for trying to get his colleagues to do the same. Censure may not be the best way to hold the President accountable, impeachment and prison would satisfy me more; however, censure is a reasonable way to reprimand the President, and the entire Democratic party should be behind it.

The days of polite politics are no more. This must be the new conventional wisdom.

I would recommend reading Eleanor Clift's piece if only to understand how not to think. Sorry Eleanor, I'm usually on your side, but this time you are way off base.

Digby has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Marching for job security, teargassing for public safety

This may not be quite the national state of emergency that erupted in France late last year, but the protests against the government's new employment policy (known as the "First Job Contract," or C.P.E.) have spread beyond the elitist corridors of the Sorbonne. According to Reuters:

Hundreds of thousands of students, workers and left-wing politicians took to the streets across France on Saturday to press the conservative government to scrap a new law they fear will erode job security... The marches were mostly festive and peaceful, but dozens of youths pelted police with missiles, overturning and setting fire to a car at the end of the main protest in Paris. Police fired many rounds of tear gas to clear them from Nation square. Scattered violence was also reported in Marseille, Rennes and Lille, where police also charged and teargassed crowds... Organisers estimated the turnout nationwide at 1.3 to 1.4 million, with up to 400,000 of them in Paris. As usual, the official count was lower -- the Interior Ministry reported 503,000 nationwide, with 80,000 in Paris.

I continue to be torn on this. The students obviously have a point, but what else is to be done to combat the high rate of unemployment in France? They want their job security, but what if there are no jobs? On the other side, the government is obviously trying to tackle the very real unemployment problem that plagues the country, but is an easy-to-fire policy really the best way to stimulate employment? Will employers hire more young people knowing that they can more or less fire them at will?

Is there room for compromise here? It would appear not.

I still think the government will blink first. Once the French are out in the streets, after all, once they erect barricades and challenge authority so openly in the public square, there's just no turning back.

The French Revolution is never quite over.

(I've previously written about the policy and the protests here and here.)

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Do you eat organic?

I do, when I can. I prefer my local Whole Foods Market to our conventional supermarket chains. And, often, I prefer smaller, local organic markets even to WFM. I do it for my own health, of course, but "sustainability" -- economic, environmental -- is certainly a good enough reason to seek out and support the organic-food movement.

But is there a dark side to buying organic? Slate tackles that question here. Don't let some admittedly valid points stop you from buying and eating organic, but, clearly, there's more to "sustainability" than meets the righteous conscience.

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Presidential failure by the numbers

New numbers from Newsweek: "A bitterly divided electorate gives President George W. Bush an approval rating of only 36 percent in the latest NEWSWEEK poll, matching the low point in his presidency recorded last November."

You want specific numbers? Here are Bush's issue-by-issue approval ratings:

  • Supreme Court appointments: 47
  • terrorism and homeland security: 44
  • the economy: 36
  • Iraq: 29
  • health care: 28
  • energy: 28

I hesitate to draw too many conclusions from such polls. (Go ahead and draw your own.) But these aren't the numbers of a lame duck. They're the numbers of a failure. (And a dangerous one at that.)

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