Saturday, August 05, 2006

Let them have their tartar sauce

Or, as seen through the lens of naked Republican greed, let the poor have an extra couple of dollars doing work many wouldn't want to do while the rich reap the endless benefits of inheritance generation after generation.

How's that for a trade-off?

I wrote last week about efforts by House Republicans to tie a minimum wage increase to inheritance tax cuts for the wealthy. (The Senate had previously refused to support a minimum wage increase on its own.) The House approved the measure last Saturday.

As Joe Gandelman reported yesterday at The Moderate Voice, Senate Democrats on Thursday narrowly blocked an effort in the Senate to pass this legislation. As the Times put it:

Republican backers of the measure, dubbed the trifecta for its three chief elements, fell 4 votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate. Democrats had argued that it was a bad bargain to exchange a $2.10 wage increase for struggling workers for a costly tax cut for the country’s wealthiest families.

Republicans were thus denied -- rightly, justly -- "a legislative victory as lawmakers head into a crucial month of campaigning before the November elections".

Republicans were engaging in a two-front campaign to reward their wealthy supporters and donors (and to please the anti-tax ideologues in their ranks) while making it seems as if they care about the plight of America's working poor. They will no doubt emphasize the second part of that campaign heading into November, charging that Democrats blocked their entirely sincere efforts to increase the minimum wage. What they won't tell voters is that they have consistently opposed an increase to the minimum wage -- which is why there hasn't been one in almost ten years.

E.J. Dionne, as usual, gets it right in the Post:

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred last night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

Conservatism may or may not be finished -- the specific question addressed by Dionne -- but it's quite clear (and has been for a long time) that the Republican Party has succumbed to an ideology of unmitigated greed, an ideology promoted by many of the conservative interests that support and sustain it. When necessary, as it is this year, with the prospect of defeat looming on the horizon, it will pander to the working poor -- usually on wedge-issue "values" like race, same-sex marriage, and abortion, but occasionally, as here, by throwing them a few scraps off the trickle-down pile.

It has rarely been this transparent. It has rarely been this disgusting.

This whole sordid episide has provided us with a glimpse into the soul of the Republican Party. Do you like what you see?

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From global warming to heat waves

Don't like the heat? Blame global warming, says The Washington Post:

Heat waves like those that have scorched Europe and the United States in recent weeks are becoming more frequent because of global warming, say scientists who have studied decades of weather records and computer models of past, present and future climate.

While it is impossible to attribute any one weather event to climate change, several recent studies suggest that human-generated emissions of heat-trapping gases have produced both higher overall temperatures and greater weather variability, which raise the odds of longer, more intense heat waves.

The deniers may continue to deny it, at great risk to all of us, but this is yet more evidence that something is terribly wrong and that something must be done to confront perhaps our most pressing challenge.

Some -- like Al Gore, and perhaps even Tony Blair and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- are up to it. Others -- like James Inhofe and perhaps even George W. Bush -- clearly aren't.

Our side must prevail.

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The Iranian Connection

Surprise, surprise. Iran is behind Hezbollah. Haaretz reports:

A senior Iranian official admitted for the first time Friday that Tehran did indeed supply long-range Zelzal-2 missiles to Hezbollah.

Of course, we also know that Iranian President Ahmadinejad thinks that the only way to achieve a lasting piece in the Middle East is to destroy Israel -- although a cease-fire will do for now. Here's what he said yesterday at the 10th Islamic Summit Conference in Malaysia: "Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented."

(France, which recently cozied up to Iran, was aghast. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, the one who did the cozying up, said that he "totally condemn(s) these words". Too late, France.)

These missiles may be used to defend Lebanon, as Iran allegedly wishes, but there's a fine line between defence (defending Lebanon) and offence (destroying Israel), isn't there?

Iran is realistic enough to know that Hezbollah, its surrogate, has been weakened and that a cease-fire may be in its short-term interest. But what then? Will Iran continue to supply Hezbollah with ever more dangerous weapons? Is Ahmadinejad all talk, or is he actually serious about destroying Israel? If the former, his rhetoric still has force throughout the region and beyond. If the latter, how far will he go to arm Israel's other enemies, the ones that will be charged with carrying out his wishes?

This isn't about Hezbollah or Lebanon. It's about Israel. It's about the threat to Israel's existence posed by the likes of Iran and Syria. The bloodshed, particularly the killing of innocent civilians, is horrible. There may be no way to justify it beyond simple utilitarian theory. But think what Israel is up against here. Think what its enemies will do to destroy it, now and in future. A cease-fire may be coming, it may be inevitable, but Iran will continue nonetheless to do what it's doing, using surrogates like Hezbollah to wage its war against Israel. And it will only get worse.

If not now, soon enough.

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Hagel calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq

From the Lincoln Journal-Star:

The United States needs to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within the next six months, Sen. Chuck Hagel said Thursday, rather than ratcheting up its military commitment now.

With Iraq exploding in sectarian violence and “moving closer and closer to a straight-out civil war,” Hagel said, the Bush administration’s decision to transfer nearly 5,000 additional U.S. troops into Baghdad is “only going to make it worse for us.”

In the end, he said, “feed(ing) more American troop fodder into the fight” could result in “even a worse defeat.”

Of course, Hagel's already been excommunicated by the Bushies and their supporters (that is, whatever supporters they have left), and these comments, in their view, will just drive him further into the Murtha camp. One wonders when the swift-boating will start.

Hagel has long been a critic of the conduct of the Iraq War. He's also been a critic of the White House's attacks on the critics of the Iraq War (see here) and has likened Iraq to Vietnam (see here). He'll now be a bigger target himself.

And yet -- Hagel's a smart guy and ought to be taken seriously. Is he not right about this?

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They're all Muslims, aren't they?

Sunnis? Shiites? Whatever.

According to The Raw Story, Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, claims in a new book that "President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq".

More: "In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."

But we knew that already, didn't we? It'd be funny if it weren't such a nightmare.

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1960 redux

Guest post by Greg Prince

Mitt Romney continues to gain traction as a presidential candidate in some quarters as people (justifiably) find something less than satisfaction with the options to be had at the top of the GOP barrel.

But there remain concerns about his electibility and the Mormon factor -- will the nation elect a Mormon, or even take one seriously as a candidate in the long run? How is it that 46 years post JFK, we still face questions along the lines of "Can a (insert denomination of choice) govern a diverse nation?"

Sometimes we get reminders of why these questions won't go away. I recently saw a copy of a letter supposedly sent to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, by a corporate executive and former Vegas-area Stake President (a lay minister with supervisory responsibility over several congregations within a defined area). I've omitted the names and don't see immediate red flags that it's bogus, but the point here is the mindset it represents. I have spoken with many people who feel just the same. It reads:

Dear Senator Reid:

You no longer seem to be able to place me when I see you, but you used to know me by name. I have supported and voted for you every time you have run for Senate. I understand politics a bit, and know one must get elected before they can do any good, and sometimes one must follow the path that leads one into office to some degree. I get that.

Still, I take umbrage to your recent position on the Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage. You chose a stance I normally agree with; not to tinker with the Constitution often or lightly. This time however, the First Presidency asked us to get involved and support this particular initiative.

I saw you on Meet the Press several years ago, just after the Priesthood Bulletin was issued by the First Presidency, re-stating what is contained in the Proclamation on the Family, that God has defined Marriage as between a Man and a Woman, and who are we to attempt to redefine it. If indeed, you believe as you say you do, that our Prophet speaks for God, evidently God is offended by what is being advanced today by the gay agenda, attempting to re-define marriage. Tim Russert read the statement... then asked for your response. You said, "I don't believe that".

In your letter to the Bishops of Nevada, you indicate that the First Presidency has never suggested to you how to vote. I submit, in this case, they did, by asking members all over the country, and in Nevada, to call and write and urge you, and other members of Congress to vote for the amendment. You failed the test, in my opinion, and you failed Nevada. Nevada passed the similar amendment -- clearly your constituency supported the amendment. The Democratic Party did not. You chose your party's agenda over Nevadans, over your Prophets wishes, and defied God in the process.

Let's call it what it is, Senator. You have sold out for power and position. Whining about how offended you are that your "Brethren" are not supportive of you anymore is not becoming of a leader of such high position. Justifying your weak stance in direct opposition to your Church's position is lame. You fear your party more than God.

I don't condemn you, Senator. But having sold out your Church, your State and possibly your soul for political power -- I will have a hard time supporting you or voting for you in the future, should you attempt to hold on to your seat. Your soul is vacant, and you have lost your moral compass. There is no right way to do a wrong thing, yet I know you believe the truth. It is such a shame you couldn't be counted on to stand for right when you were needed.

He doesn't condemn the good senator, but says his soul is vacant, he's lost his moral compass, and can't be counted on to stand for what is right. Thank heavens he didn't condemn him.

As an LDS Democrat, Reid is accustomed to criticism and doesn't let it affect his better judgment (surveys suggest upwards of 70 percent of American Mormons vote Republican, many leaning so far right their noses get rug burn). But it's fair to question the extent to which being subject to this type of spiritual abuse directs one's response to political and social questions in directions more toward expectations than toward sound policy for the nation as a whole.

And at least Reid's only being told, "You're a jackass and I won't vote for you again". It could be worse.

The Catholics have made the news suggesting that politicians who don't vote "right" on abortion issues should be denied communion, and even as far as suggesting excommunication over "wrong" votes on stem-cell research.

If you're a person of faith, a believer, can these type of threats not influence your decisions? Do we understand why this is sometimes of concern to those who don't share our faith?

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Forgive me, but I'm a whore

By Creature

I usually don't do this here at The Reaction, Michael has been such a gracious host, but I must stoop a bit low today and tell you all to come on over to State of the Day. My co-blogger, and best friend for twenty-odd years, has put up a personal, a conflicted, a great post on his reaction to the situation between Israel and Hezbollah. It's a worthy read. So I direct you all over to my place. Say hi to Ted for me, and feel free to leave your thoughts. I'm sure the post will elicit some good ones. Thanks for playing along, and thanks, Michael, for giving me a platform from which to whore my friends.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

An August of discontent

By Creature

Big news. The commander-in-chief will be on the job longer and seem more engaged this summer. Yay! Bush is in charge. And tell me, how is this supposed to make me feel better?

This year, Bush is cutting his down time to only 10 days — the shortest summer break of his presidency — against the backdrop of the Middle East in crisis, Baghdad beset by violence and Cuba in flux.

But it's all for show. Even the experts say so.

"Last summer, he was not seen as being on top of the job," says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. "He doesn't want to be seen taking a whole month off right now. It doesn't look good."

Experts, my ass, we don't need no stinkin' experts -- we got Tony Snow and his keeping up of appearances.

White House press secretary Tony Snow says Bush is taking a shorter break not because of criticism but because he has other things to do, including campaigning for Republican candidates in the fall elections, pushing for immigration reform and attending a family wedding in Kennebunkport, Maine. He plans to be in Louisiana and Mississippi on the Aug. 29 anniversary of Katrina and might return to Crawford for two days after that.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be at the ranch, where they will monitor the Middle East, Iraq and the United Nations "He's going to be working a lot, and people are going to see it," Snow says.

Incredible, look how far we have come. Here is a press secretary trying to defend his boss' working habits. I like the assurance by Snow that "people are going to see it." Once again it's image over substance. It's not so much that the president and Condi will be discussing serious issues and "working a lot," it's the fact that people are going to see it that matters most.

The entire administration was seen as not being "on top of the job" last summer and for nearly the last six years. These guys not only want to drown they baby, they want to kill it with neglect. Government is rotting from the crony-inside out. You're on your own they tell us. A bird spreads its flu, you're on your own. A terrorist blows a bomb, you're on your own. A hurricane blows you down, you're on your own. So, it makes no difference if the president is on the job or "on top of the job," the government ain't here to help you. They are too busy helping themselves.

August will not be kind to this president. Vacation or no vacation, the appearance of hard work or of no work, none of it will help the president as Katrina one-year-later plays across our TV screens. The embarrassment will return as we see the floods and the outrage all over again. The embarrassment will return as we see the destruction still there. Katrina was the turning point. The wake-up call. The true defining event of a do-nothing president and his do-nothing friends.

Have a nice vacation, GWB. This month we are sure to remember.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

Update: WaPo has more on Bush's upcoming 10-day vacation here. As to Steve Benen, Steve Soto, and The Heretik.

Elsewhere, The Guardian is reporting this: "Tony Blair today decided to delay his summer holiday for a few days to help secure a United Nations resolution that would call for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Israel-Lebanon conflict."

Bush or Blair? You decide. At least Blair, whatever his faults, seems to take his work seriously.

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Hezbollah bombards Israel, Qana inquiry completed

From The Washington Post:

Hezbollah shattered two days of relative calm in northern Israel on Wednesday, spraying the region with more than 230 rockets that set buildings and forests ablaze, wounded at least 33 civilians and killed a man as he rode his bicycle in front of his home.

Hezbollah's largest barrage of the war -- 80 more rockets than struck the Jewish state during any other day of the three-week-old conflict -- came as several thousand Israeli ground troops continued their sweep through southern Lebanon, clashing with Hezbollah fighters in at least 11 towns.

Also, "the Israeli military announced it had completed an inquiry into the airstrike Sunday on the Lebanese town of Qana that killed civilians huddled in a three-story building":

In a statement, it blamed the incident on Hezbollah for using civilian areas to facilitate attacks, including in Qana, and found the building was targeted in accordance with military guidelines. The statement also expressed regret for the incident and said the building would not have been attacked had the military known civilians were inside. Most of those who died were children.

I'll withhold comment for now. Suffice it to say that I, too, blame Hezbollah for hiding behind civilian shields. But that hardly makes this any more palatable. And I'm not sure whether or how much to blame Israel. Perhaps the airstrike could have been conducted more carefully. Perhaps these deaths could have been avoided. I don't know.

Just as there have been civilian deaths in Lebanon, an unavoidable consequence of war, so too have there been civilian deaths on the Israeli side throughout this conflict and the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict that goes back decades. And so have there been civilian deaths on all sides.

Life and death. A common, shared humanity. Is there not some hope for peace even as the bombs keep falling?

Tragedy is the only word that comes to mind. It seems to be the appropriate word to use.

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Roman vandalism

Yes, Israel's enemies are everywhere.

From the AP: "Jewish shops across Rome were vandalized and defaced with swastikas in an apparent neo-fascist attack linked to fighting in the Middle East, officials said Wednesday." Mayor Walter Veltroni: "I hope that the authors of these actions will soon answer for them in court."

We should all hope so.

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The unitary executive of George W. Bush

You want funny? This -- from The Onion -- is funny. Very funny, and very sad, and very depressing, because it's all too real:

In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.

"As president, I strongly believe that my first duty as president is to support and serve the president," Bush said during a televised address from the East Room of the White House shortly after signing his executive order. "I promise the American people that I will not abuse this new power, unless it becomes necessary to grant myself the power to do so at a later time."

The Presidential Empowerment Act, which the president hand-drafted on his own Oval Office stationery and promptly signed into law, provides Bush with full authority to permit himself to authorize increased jurisdiction over the three branches of the federal government, provided that the president considers it in his best interest to do so.

"In a time of war, the president must have the power he needs to make the tough decisions, including, if need be, the decision to grant himself even more power," Bush said. "To do otherwise would be playing into the hands of our enemies."

Make sure to read the whole thing.

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Castro's demise

As many of you surely know by now, Fidel Castro went in for intestinal surgery earlier this week and temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. Well, fret not. (Not that I am.) According to CNN, reporting on a message from the man himself, Fidel is in "stable" condition and in "good spirits". His health may be "a secret of state that cannot be divulged constantly," but "the important thing is that everything is moving perfectly well in the country and will continue to do so".

And I'm sure that's absolutely true. Would Fidel lie to his own people? Surely not. His Communist paradise must be as good as it gets. He says so himself.

Mind you, I've never been to Cuba -- and I have no intention of going until I can be sure that the screams of tortured dissidents and the blight of abject poverty won't get in the way of a relaxing, sun-drenched vacation comfortably insulated from the brutal tyranny that oppresses the Cuban people -- so what do I know?

Well, I may not know much, but Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell certainly does. Quoted in the Boston Herald, Lowell said on Tuesday that "Castro killed members of [his] family". Just like he killed so many others.

Here's what he said about Cuba: "It’s a shame, but that country has been taken hostage for 40 years. It’s time for it to have a chance at being democratic."

And about Castro: "I don’t care if he dies. There are so many people who have died because of him and there’s been so much wrongdoing and so many human rights violations that I hope he does die. That sounds bad, but it’s the truth."

I've been critical of U.S. policy towards Cuba -- engagement would have worked better than passive-aggressive hostility -- but, policy differences aside, who can now lament Castro's demise? His regime deserves to die along with him.

All is not "moving perfectly" in Cuba. It never has. And democracy doesn't have a chance as long as Castro, who is essentially synonymous with Cuba, is still alive and in power.

Good for Mike Lowell for speaking the truth.

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Allegations of fraud taint DR Congo's elections

As I reported on Sunday, DR Congo has held its first free elections in 40 years. Violence during the campaign and allegations of voting irregularities cast doubt on the legitimacy of those elections, and now there is an accusation that there was "massive fraud":

One of Congo's four vice presidents said Tuesday that a historic national election on Sunday was marred by "massive fraud" that must be remedied through new balloting in at least some parts of the country.

Azarias Ruberwa, the former leader of a Rwandan-backed rebel group who ran for president as head of Congolese Rally for Democracy, charged that officials from the nation's Independent Electoral Commission stuffed ballot boxes to help President Joseph Kabila in Congo's first multiparty vote since 1960.

Question: Is a "former leader of a Rwandan-backed rebel group" to be trusted? Could he be right? I'm not sure. The electoral commission will look into alleged "irregularities," but the U.S.-based Carter Center, which monitored the election, "expressed concern about last-minute changes to the voters list, biased news coverage and abuse of governmental authority to assist candidates".

Democracy is a challenge, but it's important to get it right the first time. Hopefully the outcome of these elections will be, and be perceived to be, legitimate. Only then will DR Congo be able to move forward.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Viva la France!

By J. Kingston Pierce

Eat hearty, all you right-wing congresspeople who haven’t already disavowed your support for George W. Bush’s ultimately disastrous Iraq war. French fries are back! So is French toast! In the battle of symbolism, the hyper-patriotic yahoos have finally relented, ceding the day to convention and common sense--something not much on view in Washington, D.C., these days.

You’ll remember that, in March 2003, a couple of Republican House members, Bob Ney of Ohio and Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, announced that all references to “French fries” and “French toast” would be expunged from the menus of cafeterias and snack bars operated by the House of Representatives. Those items would heretofore be known as “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” This denotative change came in the aftermath of France’s hesitancy to endorse Bush’s proposed military intervention in Iraq, which the White House claimed was necessary because Saddam Hussein was building up stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction” (something we now know was not true). “This action today,” Ney declared in a statement, “is a small, but symbolic, effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France.” (Regardless of the fact that French fries were invented in Belgium.)

But that was then. This is now, and as The Washington Times
reported this morning, “The fries on Capitol Hill are French again. So is the breakfast toast in the congressional cafeterias, with both fries and toast having been liberated from the appellation ‘freedom.’” Nobody seems willing to take credit for this retreat (“We don’t have a comment for your story,” says a Ney spokeswoman), but it was evidently the responsibility of Representative Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Michigan), who chairs the House Administration Committee. And, curiously, there seems to be no constituency for retaining the “freedom” labels. You’d think that the righteous effrontery and energy that resulted in those foodstuffs being renamed in the first place might linger even today. However, much has changed since the prez and Dick Cheney launched their invasion of Iraq, claiming that the Americans would be “greeted as liberators,” with cheers and flowers. For one thing, close to 2,600 U.S. troops have been killed in Saddam’s homeland. For another, the taxpayer tab for Bush’s war is climbing by “at least $200 million each and every day,” according to MSNBC economics correspondent Martin Wolk, and threatens to reach $1 trillion to $2 trillion.

On top of all that, the winds have shifted for “freedom fries” sponsors Jones and Ney. More than a year ago, Representative Jones quite publicly turned against Bush’s bellicose policies, saying the United States had launched its war against Iraq “
with no justification,” and calling for a planned withdrawal. Meanwhile, Ney, once the powerful chair of the House Administration Committee, has been implicated in the influence-buying scandal that continues to grow around former GOP “super-lobbyist” Jack Abramoff, and is under investigation for bribery. Ney is now considered to be “the most vulnerable incumbent of either party up for reelection this November,” according to Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza. This, in a year when Republicans--suffering in public opinion as a result of White House scandals, displeasure with Middle East violence, rising gas prices, and an unpopular, distrusted president from their own party--are having a tough time just holding onto their majorities in both houses of Congress, much less adding to them; and when Ohio, in particular, is trending Democratic, thanks in part to the indictment of Republican Governor Bob Taft on four criminal misdemeanor counts and the coming trials of four men--one of them a prominent GOP moneyman--mixed up in a scandal involving funds missing from the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It’s probably not in Ney’s political interests to act too arrogantly toward France, Germany, Belgium, or any other nation that opposed Bush’s increasingly unpopular war, even if his battles are symbolic in nature.

“Now that they’ve changed the name of the French fries back, maybe [Republicans] will admit their other foreign policy mistakes were wrong, too,” scoffs Brendan Daly, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, in The Washington Times.

Don’t hold your breath.

(Cross-posted at

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Israel pushes into Lebanon with expanded ground campaign

The latest from CNN: "Israeli troops landed Tuesday near the eastern Lebanese town of Baalbeck, Lebanese security sources said, and the Israeli military also engaged in fierce fighting with Hezbollah forces just across the border with Lebanon."

This follows Israel's decision to expand its ground campaign. Haaretz call it "a major operation against suspected Hezbollah positions". (Counterterrorism Blog has more.) The New York Times reports that "Israel sent up to 7,000 troops into Lebanon [yesterday], marking a significant increase in a ground offensive aimed at pushing the Hezbollah militia back from the border before a cease-fire is declared and a multinational force deployed". See also The Washington Post.

In Washington to meet with Condi Rice, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that the end of the conflict is "not far away" -- "weeks, not months". On PBS, as reported in the CNN article linked above, Rice accelerated the process: "Certainly we are talking about days not weeks before we are able to get a cease-fire."

With time running out, Israel will proceed with its aggressive campaign throughout Lebanon, pull back once it has determined that it has satisfactorily weakened Hezbollah, and hand over border security to an international force on its own terms (largely security to prevent Hezbollah from retaliating).

That's my prediction. For now.

But what if the timing is off? What if Israel's campaign goes on for several weeks? Will the international community -- whatever that even means -- wait for Israel to pull back before stepping in to provide security? Will the U.S. continue to stand by while the conflict rages on? Or will it exert pressure on Israel to pull back before it wants to?

In other terms, what will be the terms, and who will set them, of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon?

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Scenes of Lebanon

Two photos from The Globe and Mail that caught my attention -- the first of Aita al-Shaab, the second of Aitaroun. What a mad world we live in.

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Qana in ruins

Whatever happened, whatever the rhetoric coming from both sides, this is what's left of part of Qana after this past weekend's Israeli bombing.

You can find more photos at the BBC here.

Haaretz has an update:

Additional questions arose yesterday about the Israel Air Force's strike on a building in Qana on Sunday, even as the number of fatalities in the incident appeared to be much lower than originally published.

The Red Cross announced yesterday that 28 bodies, including those of 19 children, had been found at the site. Additional bodies are expected to be found over the coming days.

Regarding the IAF strike itself, it remains unclear at this stage why that specific house, which was located at the northern edge of Qana, was targeted. The Israel Defense Forces' inquiry has yet to establish a connection between residents of the building and Hezbollah operatives who were launching rockets at Israel from the area of the village. The IDF believed the building to be empty, and therefore bombed it.

IDF sources said yesterday, however, that the investigation into the incident was still ongoing. The sources added that a large number of Katyusha rockets had been fired at Israel from the area of Qana.

An investigation -- a credible one -- is crucial. For now, this looks very bad for Israel.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I want my SnowTV!

By Creature

The White House press room is getting an extreme makeover. Part of the makeover will be a grand video wall ready to tug at our patriotic heartstrings with "flags waving in the breeze." Tony Snow, proving a breeze in the White House briefing room can be generated by his big mouth alone, had this to add:

"It's simply a necessary response to a news environment where you have players in all quarters 24 hours a day," Mr. Snow says. "If you're in government ... your key challenge [is] to make sure you get your message out."

No, Mr. Snow, when you're in government ... your key challenge is to govern, and govern competently. Your message, your spin, your distortion of reality, should be left to those not on the taxpayers payroll.

The image over substance presidency continues.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Saudi pressure, American disengagement

From Reuters:

Saudi Arabia has exhorted the United States to take the lead in efforts to immediately end the fighting between Hizbollah and Israel and faulted President George W. Bush for not following through on earlier peacemaking appeals.

"The United States must play the role of pacifier and lead the world to peace and not be led by Israel's ambitions," said the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

I'd like to know what the Saudi ambassador meant by "Israel's ambitions" -- Self-preservation? The right to exist in peace as a sovereign state? Some measure of security in an insecure region dominated by its foes? Probably not. I suspect he meant something much more sinister.

And consider this: If there is to be any quick resolution to the conflict, it may be necessary to "balance the interests of all the conflicting parties in such a way that they all feel they have achieved something of importance without a loss of face," as the ambassador put it.

But what would Hezbollah, the instigator of this conflict, have achieved? A mythologized reputation for having repelled the Israeli offensive? Political legitimacy in Lebanon and beyond? The inculcation of fear among the Israelis? And what about Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's enablers? What would they have achieved? A step closer to regional hegemony? A reputation as an Islamist bulwark against Israel and America? The confidence to strike again?

Why should it matter that Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria come out of this looking good?

Turki rightly blamed Hezbollah for starting this conflict with a "reckless adventure" but said that "these unacceptable and irresponsible actions do not justify the Israeli destruction of Lebanon or the targeting and punishment of the Lebanese and Palestinian civilian populations" -- in other words, it's now Israel's fault and Israel must be stopped.)

But let's give Turki some credit. He was right to criticize Bush for failing thus far to take a diplomatic lead to resolve the crisis. He sent Rice to Beirut, but that's been about it. The American "green light" has shielded Israel from its critics at the U.N. and has essentially allowed Israel to conduct its offensive without interference, but the U.S. needs to take a more active role in the peace process, or whatever process will end this conflict.

With (super) power comes (super) responsibility, right?

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The Blair-Schwarzenegger alliance on global warming

Prime Minister Blair has misread President Bush on global warming, expecting far too much -- something, anything -- from a White House that doesn't take global warming seriously, that doesn't even think there's a problem at all, but he has turned to the state that may just work with him on this pressing issue: California.

Yes, behold the Blair-Schwarzenegger alliance:

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced an agreement Monday to bypass the Bush administration and work together to explore ways of fighting global warming.

They agreed to collaborate on research into cleaner-burning fuels and technologies, and look into the possibility of setting up a system whereby polluters could buy and sell the right to emit greenhouse gases. The idea is to use market forces and market incentives to curb pollution.

Environmental groups may be right that this is "little more than a symbolic gesture". The market won't be able to deal with the problem of global warming all on its own. There needs to be a commitment from governments around the world to curb global warming, not just incentives for private interests to act in the public (and planetary) interest -- private interests can and must help, just as corporations can and must support sustainable development, but they generally aren't reliable defenders of any interests but their own immediate ones.

And yet I have no doubt that both Blair and Schwarzenegger are serious about this. California is a major polluter, but it's also environmentally progressive. And the U.K., like much of the rest of Europe, has long embraced environmentalism.

A symbolic gesture? It's better than nothing. And maybe -- just maybe -- symbols and gestures will lead to more substantive efforts to do something before it's too late.

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What happened in Qana?

According to CNN, "Israel's Security Cabinet has approved an expansion of the ground campaign against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon".

Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post is reporting that "Hizbullah's rocket launching capability [has been] significantly compromised by the fighting that [has taken] place in the past three weeks".

It's hard to know what to think anymore, nor what to believe.

There are even questions surrounding the Israeli attack on Qana that left at least 54 Lebanese dead -- among them 37 children. Human Rights Watch says that responsibility "rests squarely with the Israeli military," but the IDF isn't so sure, according to Haaretz:

There is an unexplained gap of about seven hours between the one Israeli air strike that hit the Qana building housing the civilians, which took place around 1 A.M. Sunday, and the first report that the building had collapsed, said the chief of staff of the Israel Air Force, Brigadier General Amir Eshel. Speaking at a press conference at the Kirya military complex in Tel Aviv last night, Eshel said that of three Israeli air strikes on Qana early Sunday, only the first strike hit the building in which the civilians were staying. The other two hit areas at least 400 meters away.

Indeed, "the building may have collapsed because the IAF bombing triggered a delayed explosion of weapons stored inside".

Not that you should necessarily believe the IDF. It has its own interests to defend. And as Maha of Mahablog puts it, this is still just "wild-ass speculation". Make of it what you will. I doubt we'll ever know the truth about what happened in Qana, but we should encourage an investigation nonetheless.

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The crazy French

The mind boggles.

Speaking in Beirut, where he met yesterday with his Iranian counterpart, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said this: "In the region there is of course a country such as Iran -- a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region."

He's kidding, right? Or is he crazy? It's one thing to be polite in diplomatic circles, quite another to speak so positively of a country that is developing a nuclear program in flagrant violation of the U.N.; that has threatened Israel's very existence; that funds, supports, and arms Hezbollah; that promotes instability in Iraq; that has aspirations to regional hegemony; and that may have started this whole mess to divert attention away from its nuclear program. More, a country led by a madman president and authoritarian theocrats, a country that oppresses its people, a country that will try to block any attempt to bring peace to the Middle East, a country that celebrates Hugo Chavez.

I suspect that Douste-Blazy wasn't referring to, say, film director Abbas Kiarostami, one of the world's best, or to any of the other famous Iranians who have made their (distinguished) mark on the world stage throughout history. He must have been referring to Ahmadinejad and the other rulers of present-day Iran.

Iran may very well be home to a great and respected civilization. Its people may be great, too. But there's nothing admirable about the leadership in Tehran. To say that Iran "plays a stabilizing role in the region" is to indicate that you are delusional, mendacious, malevolent, or some combination of the three. France, once a proud nation, evidently has nothing much left to offer the world with respect to moral leadership. It certainly has nothing to offer with respect to the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. If all it can do is cozy up to Iran, it would do better to leave well enough alone.

What a revolting spectacle.

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Monday, July 31, 2006

The sad state of Katherine Harris

I've already written about Katherine Harris's [fill in the blank] Senate candidacy four times, and I seem finally to be out of creative nouns and adjectives to describe it.

In our last installment just a few days ago -- which you can find here (with links to the previous ones) -- we saw that Harris's poll numbers had fallen dramatically, with support even from Republicans eroding rapidly.

Now, according to the AP, her own party is turning against her. The state Republican Party has told her that "she [can't] win this fall's Senate election and that the party [won't] support her campaign".

Here's how the state leadership put it in a letter to Harris acquired by the AP: "Katherine, though it causes us much anguish, we have determined that your campaign faces irreparable damage. We feel that we have no other choice but to revoke our support. The polls tell us that no matter how you run this race, you will not be successful in beating Bill Nelson, who would otherwise be a vulnerable incumbent if forced to face a stronger candidate."

Ouch. Anguish, perhaps, but a healthy dose of reality right along with it.

As I've said before, I hope she stays in the race and I hope she's the Republican nominee come November. She deserves the brutal defeat that awaits her.

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South Dakota and abortion (revisited 2)

Remember that notorious South Dakota abortion ban, the one that flagrantly disregards Roe, the one that may end up at the Supreme Court? (I've written about it here and here.) Well, Governor Mike Rounds approved the ban earlier this year, but, as the Argus Leader puts it, "[o]pponents circulated a petition and got enough signatures to prevent the law from taking effect until after a November vote".

And how will South Dakotans vote? Good news:

Amid the often hostile rhetoric that pierces South Dakota’s closely watched abortion debate, a new survey shows that more residents of the largely conservative state oppose a ban on the pregnancy-ending procedure than support it, though that would change if exceptions for cases involving rape and incest were allowed.

According to the statewide poll, conducted for the Argus Leader and KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, 47 percent of voters polled would vote to reject the ban, compared with 39 percent who would vote to keep it. Another 14 percent were undecided.

But not totally good news. The key poll result may be that 59 percent of South Dakotans would support a ban that "included an exception for cases involving rape or incest". Which means that if this ban fails in November a ban with exceptions (but still a broad ban) could eventually be signed into law as a more popular alternative/compromise.

And that wouldn't be good at all. (Unless a watered-down ban made it all the way to the Supreme Court and was then struck down, bolstering Roe and providing yet another precedent for abortion rights.)

Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report has more here.

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Sick to the core

Christopher Hitchens on Mel Gibson (at Slate): "[I]t has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred."

Grotesque, vindictive bloodbaths like Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ aside, can you watch his old movies anymore without thinking about his anti-Semitism, not to mention his other vicious prejudices? Are the Lethal Weapon movies nearly as enjoyable as they used to be (at least the first two)? How about a decent movie like Maverick? How about more serious movies like Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously? Or how about Chicken Run, perhaps one of the two best movies he's done (his voice is far more compelling than his acting)? Or Signs, the other one, Shyamalan's brilliant examination of faith?

I'm not sure I can anymore. It's hard to look past the ugly, despicable bigotry that has come to define him.

(Creature has more on the Gibson slur here.)

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Why Joe needs to go

Guest post by Edward Copeland

(Ed. note: Please welcome Edward Copeland, our newest guest blogger. Edward writes an extremely informative blog called the Copeland Institute for Lower Learning, where he traces the incompetence of the Bush Administration and otherwise provides round-ups of the latest news. Like the rest of us, he's been writing about the Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah conflict, but that hasn't prevented him from addressing in recent days such diverse topics as Medicare, the minimum wage, Darfur, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the economy, immigration, and the NSA eavesdropping scandal, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. (Plus, fellow cinephiles, he has his own film blog, Edward Copeland on Film.) His first post here offers a persuasive argument against Joe Lieberman. Read on -- and check out his two great blogs. -- MJWS)


Next week, Democratic voters in Connecticut will go to the polls for the Senate primary that will decide whether they toss longtime incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in favor of newcomer Ned Lamont. Until this past weekend, the media has mainly tried to cast this primary fight in terms of Lieberman's support for the debacle in Iraq, but the truth is that it's not that simple and opposition to Censorin' Joe has been building for a long time.

This election battle has been mischaracterized as antiwar Democrats attacking Lieberman only for his position on Iraq, but single issues don't disqualify Democratic candidates. There is no rallying cry against Harry Reid or Pennsylvania Senate candidate Bob Casey for being pro-life. Long before the Iraq war was even contemplated, Lieberman's addition to the Gore presidential ticket is what prompted many Bush opponents to abandon the Democratic ticket for Ralph Nader and other alternative tickets -- the Gore-Lieberman appeared to them to be an endorsement of Democratic censorship efforts through Gore's past affiliation with the Parents Music Resource Center seeking to label music and Lieberman's attacks on Hollywood, television and video games. Last week alone, Howard Stern of all people came out blasting Lieberman for his censorship efforts.

However, that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of why Democrats don't like Lieberman. Another side effect of 2000: people resented his
hedging his bet by running for both vice president and his Connecticut Senate seat at the same time, much like his enormous ego is planning to run as an independent if Democratic voters dare choose Lamont over him in the Aug. 8 primary:

Some political observers think the seeds of Lieberman's problems with Connecticut voters were planted in 2000, when Al Gore picked him as his vice presidential running mate and as a precaution Lieberman refused to give up his bid for a third Senate term. "It's called covering your bases, rather than being a loyal party guy," said John M. Orman, a Fairfield University politics professor who briefly challenged Lieberman before Lamont entered the picture.

In Censorin' Joe's mind, he was placed on his Senate throne as if by God himself and no one else is entitled to it. Many people conveniently forget how Lieberman came to gain his Senate seat. Conservative Republicans, angry that an honest-to-goodness liberal Republican, Lowell Weicker, held the seat, organized against Weicker in 1988, with conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. personally recruiting Lieberman as a challenger to Weicker. In a delicious irony, Buckley is now a harsher critic of the Iraq effort than Lieberman is.

Other issues in which Lieberman has alienated Democrats beyond his self-interest, Iraq and free speech issues include:

1. Expressing interest in Dubya's plan for private Social Security accounts.
2. Backing the joke of the GOP energy bill.
3. Supporting Congress sticking its nose in the Terri Schiavo case.
4. Refusing to support a filibuster against Samuel Alito.
5. Opposition to same-sex marriage.
6. Supporting private school vouchers, which has cost him the support of two teachers' unions in Connecticut who have endorsed Lamont.

I could go on, but I'm just scratching the surface (I haven't even mentioned the divorced senator's pose as a moral exemplar during the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy). As The New York Times wrote in its editorial
endorsing Lamont:

It's true that Mr. Lieberman has fallen in love with his image as the nation's moral compass. But if pomposity were a disqualification, the Senate would never be able to call a quorum.

This is not to say that his position on Iraq is unimportant. It certainly is the straw that broke the camel's back. Many Democrats backed the war, only to hurriedly try to change their tune when things went sour, but Censorin' Joe has remained steadfast, even aping the administration's loony rose-colored outlook of the situation on the ground after a trip there. His support has also raised another question in my mind: There have been few more solid Israel supporters in Congress than Joe Lieberman, but when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed support for Hezbollah, the silence from Lieberman was quite noticeable. Did he boycott al-Maliki's address to Congress? Did he say anything? If he did, I didn't hear about it. He's stuck: His pride prevents him from criticizing anything that's gone wrong in Iraq (namely everything) and he would never question Israel's tactics either. What good is a lawmaker so stymied by past stances he can't make a decision.

As the Times editorial
pointed out, Lieberman's worst decisions have been to be a willing participant to the imperial power grabs by the Bush administration.

In his effort to appear above the partisan fray, he has become one of the Bush administration's most useful allies as the president tries to turn the war on terror into an excuse for radical changes in how this country operates.

Citing national security, Mr. Bush continually tries to undermine restraints on the executive branch: the system of checks and balances, international accords on the treatment of prisoners, the nation's longtime principles of justice. His administration has depicted any questions or criticism of his policies as giving aid and comfort to the terrorists. And Mr. Lieberman has helped that effort. He once denounced Democrats who were "more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq" than on supporting the war's progress.

At this moment, with a Republican president intent on drastically expanding his powers with the support of the Republican House and Senate, it is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman's ability to command Republicans' attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president's defender.

Should Ned Lamont prevail in the primary, there is no doubt that Censorin' Joe will run as an independent -- his ego is too large for any other outcome. He might even retain his seat running as an independent, but I make this plea to Sen. Lieberman: If you mean what you say about being a good Democrat, accept the voters' verdict with grace and bow out. Don't blame the bloggers and the antiwar activists -- your 18-year record of being at odds with the bulk of the Democratic Party brought this situation about. Find some humility and step aside.

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Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah round-up #3

Some important stories to follow:

From The Washington Post:

Israeli warplanes hunting Hezbollah rocket launchers in southern Lebanon on Sunday killed at least 57 civilians, most of them children, huddled inside a three-story building in a small village. In response, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to abandon diplomacy in the region and said she would return to Washington Monday. After an intense day of negotiations in Jerusalem, Israel agreed to suspend air attacks on southern Lebanon for 48 hours.

The attack on the small Lebanese village of Qana was the bloodiest single incident in 19 days of warfare between Israel and Hezbollah. Among the dead were 37 children and a large number of women, according to the Lebanese health minister. Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim movement, vowed revenge, and more than 150 rockets slammed into northern Israel, wounding at least five people. It was the highest number of rockets fired at Israel since the conflict began.

The New York Times notes that the strike on Qana "[marks] the bloodiest day of this conflict and [puts] enormous pressure on Israel and the United States to move rapidly toward a cease-fire." The Jerusalem Post has more here, CNN here.


Nonetheless, Haaretz is reporting that "Israel would continue its military assault on Hezbollah targets for at least two more weeks." This according to Defense Minister Amir Peretz.


The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the IDF is prepared for a Syrian attack -- even though Israel has signalled that it has no interest engaging Syrian forces.


Haaretz's Gideon Levy offers a devastating view of the Israeli homefront:

In war as in war: Israel is sinking into a strident, nationalistic atmosphere and darkness is beginning to cover everything. The brakes we still had are eroding, the insensitivity and blindness that characterized Israeli society in recent years is intensifying. The home front is cut in half: the north suffers and the center is serene. But both have been taken over by tones of jingoism, ruthlessness and vengeance, and the voices of extremism that previously characterized the camp's margins are now expressing its heart. The left has once again lost its way, wrapped in silence or "admitting mistakes." Israel is exposing a unified, nationalistic face.

Make sure to read the whole piece.

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Another food crisis in Niger

For most of us U.S.-centric political junkies, Niger means uranium, yellowcake, Plame, Wilson, Novak, Libby -- you know, the whole sordid Plamegate affair.

But what about Niger itself? Well, you can get more information about it from the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the BBC, and at Wikipedia, among other good sources.

Right now, though, things are bad. According to the BBC, aid agencies are warning that "[t]he food situation in Niger is deteriorating once more, just a year after it was struck by a devastating drought". Some families have been "reduced to eating leaves from trees, just to get by". And the crisis is likely to get much worse: "The UN says the 1.5m people it feeds will more than double in a few weeks. By September, 25% of Niger's 12m people will be receiving food aid, the World Food Programme predicts."

Plamegate is serious, don't get me wrong, but there's much more to Niger than yellowcake.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nascent democracy in DR Congo

As I mentioned back in February, the Democratic Republic of Congo has a new constitution, one that introduces democratic rule to a country that hasn't had free elections in 40 years.

Well, today was the big day, reports the BBC, and the polls are now closed:

The elections were aimed at ending a long civil war, with 32 candidates, including incumbent Joseph Kabila, contesting the presidency.

More than 9,000 candidates were running for parliament and some 25m voters, were protected by the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world.

Counting is already under way, but full results are not expected for weeks.

Democracy can be difficult, of course, and the first free election in 40 years in DR Congo hasn't been without its problems. There are already allegations of voting irregularities, a few of the presidential candidates are "the leaders of former armed factions," and the campaign itself was marked by incidents of violence.

Still, a free election with problems is better than an unfree election or no election at all. It will take a long time for all the old wounds to heal, but this is a promising step towards peace.

One hopes the Congolese give democracy a chance.

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A parallel universe

Fareed Zakaria on Donald Rumsfeld, from today's This Week: "He seems literally in a parallel universe and slightly deranged. If you listen to what he said last week about Iraq, he’s living in a different world, not a different country."

Indeed. But what else is new?

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Israel-Lebanon-Hezbollah round-up #2

A few good links:

In an interview with The Times, Hezbollah's second in command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, claims that Hezbollah has been preparing for an Israeli offensive for six years: "If it was not for these preparations Lebanon would have been defeated within hours." He also criticized Britain for allowing U.S. weapons bound for Israel to go through London.

Qassem's boss, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, ratcheted up the rhetoric on Saturday, threatening Israel with further rocket attacks. As quoted in Haaretz: "The bombardment of Afula and its military base is the beginning... Many cities in the center [of Israel] will be targeted in the 'beyond Haifa' phase if the savage aggression continues on our country, people and villages." In a speech broadcast on Al-Manar, Hezbollah's television network, he also claimed that Israel is "a slave of the U.S.," that "[t]he enemy [has] attained no military achievements," and that Hezbollah's "strong position" has prompted diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

On the ground, according to The Jerusalem Post, "[t]he IDF wrapped up its operations in the southern Lebanese village of Bint Jbail on Saturday and withdrew most of its troops from the area". But the offensive will continue: "At the same time, the army [is] gearing up for a new ground incursion into Lebanon." Also, "the IAF struck a road along the Lebanese border with Syria that the IDF said was being used by Damascus to smuggle weapons to Hizbullah".

So where does that leave things?

At Whiskey Bar, Billmon (a critic of the Israeli offensive who nonetheless continues to provide some solid commentary on the conflict) asks whether the withdrawal from Bint Jbail is the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. It's an interesting post, though I strongly disagree with his claim that "the Anglo-Israeli alliance has committed both a crime and a mistake".

Which brings me to an excellent op-ed on the conflict in Haaretz by the former leader of Germany's Green Party (and former German foreign minister in the Schroeder government), Joschka Fischer:

The current war in Lebanon is not a war by the Arab world against Israel; rather, it is a war orchestrated by the region's radical forces -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran -- which fundamentally reject any settlement with Israel...

Moderate Arab governments understand full well the issue at stake in this war: It is about regional hegemony in the case of Syria with Lebanon and Palestine and, on a wider level, Iran's hegemonic claim to the entire Middle East. Yet the war in Lebanon and Gaza could prove to be a miscalculation for the radicals. By firing missiles on Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, a boundary has been crossed. From now on, the issue is no longer primarily one of territory, restitution or occupation. Instead, the main issue is the strategic threat to Israel's existence.

Precisely. This conflict is primarily about Israel's right to defend itself as a sovereign state. Even more fundamentally, it is about Israel's right to exist. With Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets that can hit targets deep in Israeli territory, and with Hezbollah itself supported by Iran and Syria, one of which is developing a nuclear arsenal, Israel's existence may be more profoundly threatened than ever before.

This is not to excuse some of what Israel has done in the past, nor some of what it continues to do, nor even the military conduct of its current offensive in Lebanon, some of which is questionable, nor to suggest that Israel couldn't do more to promote a healthy, sustainable Palestianian state. It is, however, to emphasize the existential nature of this conflict and its roots.

For Israel, what could possibly be more important than its own existence? It may not always defend itself effectively -- and the offensive in Lebanon may in part have been conducted poorly -- but defend itself it must.

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