Saturday, October 21, 2006

McCain 4ever

By Heraclitus

My goodness. What has gotten into our gracious host? Did you see his post below? So aggressive and snarky. Must be something in the water over at The Carpetbagger Report.

Okay, ironizing aside, I'm afraid I have to disagree with the excellent Michael Stickings, as well as the perhaps even more excellent Glenn Greenwald (if such a thing is possible). It's true, of course, that more troops will not help the situation in Iraq as long as the civilian leadership remains totally incompetent, which is to say, as long as Bush remains President. But it is noteworthy that Bush has suddenly come out and announced that he will "adapt" his tactics in Iraq. This is clearly Bush's attempt to answer criticisms of the Iraq war, to show that he is a capable leader after all. I can't imagine anyone is actually buying this (on this, see also Michael's post over at TCR on Rove), but he's got to make the effort. And McCain, as he patiently and obediently has since losing the nomination in 2000, has been trotted out like a good dog to sit and speak. Here he is, playing along, pretending the war can still won, that Bush is a competent leader, etc. He's doing what he can, and what is required of him, to help the Republicans in the election.

I'm not especially inspired by his performance, or by his willingness to partake in the charade. But, let's face it, this is politics. Of course McCain isn't going to strike out and torpedo his own party, or sit on his hands while they take it on the chin (surely preferable to taking it in other places). I didn't see this particular interview, but I assume McCain's performance was what is has been in the past on such occasions, bemused and more or less openly ironic.

I admit to having a soft spot for McCain. It may just be because he's got such a great sense of humor. Check out the transcript of the appearance on Matthews' show here, and especially the beginning, where he jokes about drinking vodka with HRC on a recent trip to Estonia ("What happens in Estonia stays in Estonia"). Maybe it's because, whatever you think of his politics, there's no denying he is one bad-assed hombre. I'm sure we'd all like to think we would have held up as well in an DRVN prison, but, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, "not bloody likely." In any case, and whatever the reason, I want to think well of McCain, and so perhaps I'm being naive here. But I think it's equally naive to attack what he's doing now without taking into account the larger context of the election and the role McCain has to play in it in order to have a shot at the GOP nomination in 2008.

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Not especially cheering

By Heraclitus

There are murmurs that anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism are on the rise in Germany. Check out
this story from the BBC. The particular event prompting this story is a neo-Nazi rally in Berlin calling for the release of a German far-right singer, convicted of "spreading hatred of Jewish people and foreigners in Germany."

Earlier in a newspaper interview, the Israeli ambassador to Germany said he was concerned for Jews in Germany.

Shimon Stein said he thought anti-Semitism was increasing there.

Speaking to the German newspaper the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung, he said the number of neo-Nazis had also risen and there was a greater willingness to use violence.

Mr Stein said there had tightened security had been put in place around synagogues and other institutions.

"I have the feeling that Jews in Germany do not feel safe. They are not always able to practice their religion freely," he said.


The BBC's correspondent Steve Rosenberg says that in recent days German politicians and German police have expressed concern at the rise of the far right in Germany.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of racist attacks carried out by right-wing extremists, says our Berlin correspondent.

The NPD has made significant gains in recent regional elections.

It now has seats in three regional parliaments in Germany.

This week, Germany's coalition government promised to spend more money on the fight against right-wing extremism.

To be sure, Germany still has some of the most stringent anti-hate speech laws on the books. But this development can hardly be greeted with anything but dismay. The continued economic stagnation of the former East Germany is a major problem for the country, and is contributing to the rise of the far-right, and this combined with the emergence and growth of new nationalist parties across the continent is not promising. Too early to be alarmist, but hardly something to ignore, either.

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On McCain's fantastical plan to win the war in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, what do you know? John McCain has a plan for winning the Iraq War. How exciting! I'm sure it's the one we've all been waiting for from the warmongers.

Or not. Glenn Greenwald, who does about as good a debunking job of the possible '08 GOP presidential nominee as you're likely to find anywhere, puts it this way:

I don't think McCain even knows what to say about Iraq at this point — the Straight Talker refuses admit that it was wrong because he was one of the loudest cheerleaders for it, but there are also plainly no viable options to change what is occurring — so all he does is babble incoherently about it. As best I can tell, his position is that we need 100,000 more troops to win, and that young Americans one day are going to realize this and there will be a spontaneous and massive wave of volunteers eager to go to Iraq and fight in combat there because they will realize — like McCain and the President do — just how Very Important it is that we win.

Yup, it's McCain the Neoconservative, regurgitating the same old more-troops argument we've heard over and over again from Bill Kristol and his PNAC ilk. But with a twist. Called to service — surely not by Bush, who avoided his own call to service and whose concept of national sacrifice amounts to asking Americans to go out and shop — America's "young people" would dutifully sign up and head off to battle.

Oh, really? You think so, huh? You think America's young men and women see, or will ever see, the Iraq War as a "crisis" for America? Sorry, but the crisis is in Iraq, which seems to be slip-sliding ever deeper into civil war with each passing day. You don't think America's "young people" in whom you have so much confidence see that? You don't think they know about the death and destruction, the chaos and carnage? They aren't about to rush off to war. They aren't about to see the utter disaster you supported, and continue to support more ardently than some of its architects, as a noble cause. Don't ask them, and certainly don't expect them, to go off and die in the deserts of Mesopotamia for what is now an utterly lost cause.

This issue has passed McCain by. More troops may have been advisable back in 2003, but the American people have turned against the war and its architects. That's what the polls say, and the results of next month's votes all over the country may confirm it.

There is no popular support to send more troops over to Iraq. Even if there were, there are no troops to send, certainly not 100,000 more. And even if there were, how would Iraqis, insurgents and non-insurgents alike, respond to the sudden increase in what is almost universally viewed as an occupying force? Even if a larger force were able to overcome both the anti-American insurgency and the intra-Iraqi sectarianism, even if some semblance of peace were to be imposed at gunpoint, would not the resentment of Iraqis towards the United States increase? Would not the image of America as an imperial power be reinforced throughout the Muslim world?

The shark has been jumped, Senator McCain. It's over. We need a plan that involves getting out of Iraq, not one that would make a disastrous situation even worse.

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GOP infighting

By Heraclitus

The Decembrist has a very interesting post up about the current power struggle in the Congressional GOP and the possbility of a coup within the party. He ends on a note of optimism about the possibility of a weak, internally discordant Republican Party being forced by its own weakness to work with the Democrats in Congress, and actually do something besides slash taxes. It's intelligent, very-well informed, nuanced and careful, and well worth reading.

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Sadr's Mahdi Army takes control of Amara

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As if we needed yet more evidence that Iraq is falling apart — or, rather, that it is descending ever further into chaos with an impotent central government and rampant sectarianism — the city of Amara, located in the southeastern part of the country, fell yesterday, temporarily, to Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of militiamen linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr battled local police and members of a rival Shiite militia in the southeastern city of Amara [yesterday], destroying police stations and seizing control of entire neighborhoods, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of one of their fighters…

The gunmen from Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, eventually withdrew from their positions and ceded control of the city to an Iraqi Army batallion sent from Basra. The negotiations continued late into the evening.

Yes, the Iraqi Army retook control, but the incident reveals much about the state of Iraq today:

1) "British forces, who occupied the city for two years before turning it over to Iraqi control in August, did not intervene to stop the bloodshed in Amara, apparently wanting to give Iraqi officials time to resolve the dispute on their own. British military officials said that a quick-reaction force was standing by outside Amara in case the Iraqis’ efforts failed."

2) "The stunning and defiant display of militia strength underscored the weaknesses of the Iraqi security forces and the potency of the Mahdi Army, which has been able to operate virtually unchecked in Iraq. The Mahdi Army is widely accused of propelling the cycle of sectarian violence that threatens to plunge the country into all-out civil war."

3) "Today’s clashes, which pitted Mr. Sadr’s fighters against members of a rival Shiite faction, the Badr Organization, also showed the deep fissures in the country’s Shiite leadership, and cast doubt on the ability of the ruling Shiite coalition to hold itself together."

In other words:

Coalition forces are ceding responsibility for security to the Iraqis in anticipation of a likely withdrawal. Perhaps not a complete withdrawal, but certainly a partial one, particularly a British one. The Iraqis succeeded today, sort of, but questions remain as to whether they will be able to secure the country, insofar as that is even possible, once coalition forces pull back or out.

The Mahdi Army is strong, but there is evident disunity among Shiites. As
Kevin Drum puts it: "Sadr may be playing a double game, encouraging attacks privately while denouncing them publicly, but it's more likely that he's genuinely lost control of at least parts of his militia. In other words, not only don't we control Amara, and not only does the central government in Baghdad not control Amara, but apparently even Sadr doesn't control Amara."

It may be next to impossible to control these militias, but apparently they can't even control themselves. Even Sadr seems to be losing control.

And things will only get worse.

(For more, see
Abu Aardvark, Kiko's House, and The Moderate Voice.)

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Reaction Round-Up -- 10/20/06

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Week #2 for the Friday round-up. Here are direct links to some of our posts from the past few days (or just scroll down the main page for all posts from the past two weeks):

Also, I'm guest blogging at The Carpetbagger Report this weekend. I'll cross-post those posts here, but head on over there to join in the conversation with the commenters, if you feel so inclined. Or just head on over anyway. It's one of the best political blogs anywhere.

And keep checking in here at The Reaction for new posts all weekend long.

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More trouble for Diebold

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was just sent an alert by The Brad Blog. According to The Washington Post, Diebold is once more at the center of the e-voting storm:

The FBI is investigating the possible theft of software developed by the nation's leading maker of electronic voting equipment, said a former Maryland legislator who this week received three computer disks that apparently contain key portions of programs created by Diebold Election Systems.

But all is not clear: The disks were "delivered anonymously" to Cheryl Kagan, the Democratic legislator in question. The included "unsigned letter" criticizes Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone and claims that the disks had been "accidentally picked up". And it gets weirder and more confusing:

Lamone's deputy, Ross Goldstein, said "they were not our disks," but he acknowledged that the software was used in Maryland in the 2004 elections. Diebold said in a statement last night that it had never created or received the disks.

But "the Diebold statement said the version of one program apparently stored on the disks is still in use in "a limited number of jurisdictions' and is protected by encryption". And the FBI may or may not be investigating the matter.

How serious is this? Pretty serious — so serious as to call into question the very foundation of democratic legitimacy whenever and wherever Diebold (and e-voting generally) is involved:

The disks delivered to Kagan's office bear labels indicating that they hold "source code" — the instructions that constitute the core of a software program — for Diebold's Ballot Station and Global Election Management System (GEMS) programs. The former guides the operation of the company's touch-screen voting machines; the latter is in part a tabulation program used to tally votes after an election.

Methinks someone, or some company, isn't being entirely honest here. In fact, a few inter-linked companies that are making a lot of money off e-voting may not be telling the whole truth. But what else is new?

Read the WaPo article, and keep checking in at The Brad Blog (including its response to this story), which as some of you may know is doing incredible work following (and breaking) election fraud stories around the country: "[W]ill someone finally understand that this is a massive problem that needs immediate attention?"

For the sake of American democracy, we should hope so.


UPDATE: CBS News is also reporting on the Diebold-Maryland theft story:

Gov. Robert Ehrlich questions the reliability of the touch-screen machines and has suggested that Marylanders use absentee ballots if they have any doubts whether their votes will be counted accurately.

"This raises yet another unanswered question with regard to Diebold technology," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor.

This is another recent instance in which the security of electronic voting machines was brought into question, just weeks after a Princeton University study published in September demonstrated how at least one version of Diebold's electronic voting machines could be easily hacked to switch votes without leaving any trace of the corrupting software. A virus could also be spread from machine to machine via the memory cards used to tabulate votes. Diebold claims that the machine software studied is no longer in use.

The article also includes "other developments" in e-voting from around the country.

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Get your ironic web logging here

By Heraclitus

A nice piece of blog irony, courtesy of the inestimable James Lileks. Just click here and read.

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By Heraclitus

Ann at Feministing has two excellent posts up today. The first deals with a new book by Joan Burbick called Gun Show Nation, and discusses "the connections between gun culture, misogyny and domestic violence." These connections include the following:

The gun lobby also lends its support to domestic abusers in more concrete ways. Burbick explains that the Lautenberg amendment to the Violence Against Women Act bans people from owning firearms if they have restraining orders against them or misdemeanor convictions for domestic assault. The NRA and other gun groups publicly oppose the law.

But Burbick notes that this is at odds with the supposed reasons their right to bear arms needs protecting. One of their standard catchphrases is that if guns are criminalized, only the criminals will have guns. Yet they fight for gun rights for domestic abusers, who are certainly criminals.

Hmm... I wonder what their reasoning could be?

The second post is a run-down of some of the more egregious chicanery surrounding the vote on the ban on abortion in South Dakota, particularly concerning the public proclamations of various doctors. The post also contains several very good links, both to previous Feministing posts and to a New Republic article.

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Not so hot

By Heraclitus

I don't have a lot to add to the title or first paragraph of this article by Dana Milbank. Apparently, this is "National Character Counts Week," but it is also, of course, election season. So who is our wonderful president out there campaigning for?

So it has come to this: Nineteen days before the midterm elections, President Bush flew here [La Plume, PA] to champion the reelection of a congressman who last year settled a $5.5 million lawsuit alleging that he beat his mistress during a five-year affair.

That's some damned fine character those Republicans have.

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More Baseball

By Heraclitus

Bill Simmons of ESPN kept a running diary of last night's game. Here are two of the highlights:

6:44 -- Suppan bounces a pitch in front of home plate that hits Valentin in the face. That's quickly followed by Endy Chavez stranding two runners to end the inning. This is terrible. I feel like I'm sitting in the stands watching one of my neighbor's kids play in a Babe Ruth game. Can we all agree that this game can never be shown on ESPN Classic, no matter how it ends?

8:57 -- Our NLCS MVP: Jeff Suppan. Never have five words summed up the quality of a league that perfectly.

Not all of it is hilarious, but it's worth reading for his inventory of Tim McCarver's various howlers. Incidentally, he backed down from the claim that it could never be shown on ESPN Classic.

I am a little disappointed that he didn't get the irony when Fox played Abba's "Take a Chance on Me" to a montage of Oliver Perez moments. Simmons refered to it as "gay." He can be very funny and has a wide range of pop-cultural references, but irony really seems to be beyond his grasp.

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Jonah Goldberg: telling hippies to shove it is priority #1

By Heraclitus

In the words of Kim Deal, "I know you're a real cuckoo." My own take on the wingnuttery of Jonah Goldberg (and fellow traveller Dinesh D'Souza) is here. But now Goldberg has written a column admitting that the Iraq War was a mistake--albeit a "worthy mistake." His column is here, but life is short and Goldberg is an idiot. Instead, read Amanda Marcotte's truly brilliant annihilation of Goldberg's piece. It's hard to pick one quote as the best, but if I had to, it would be this one:

He’s admitted that the Iraq War was a “mistake”, but the main point he wants to get across is that none of this means you pot-smoking hippies were right. So quit gloating between puffs of your marijuana cigarettes. The notion that we non-dope-smoking, non-hippie liberals might have also seen right through Bush’s bullshit at the beginning is inconceivable to him. No, in Jonah’s world, when Bush ran around the country telling people, “Oh no, don’t believe the experts about whether or not Iraq has WMDs, believe a two bit asshole who you know for a fact will lie his head off it means he gets his way,” the only people who weren’t scared out of their minds must have been too stoned to care. No other explanation. None.

Meanwhile, what are we to think when even a rat like Goldberg is deserting the sinking GOP ship? Granted, he's hardly coming out as a Democrat (because that would make him a fascist, don'cha know), but when even Goldberg doesn't have Bush's back on the war, you wonder what's going on. Indeed, this string of GOP nincompoopery, so close to the election, makes one slightly paranoid. Is there some shadowy group, led by Cancer Man, who really controls the government, and has decided that they've had enough of W and the GOP?

Maybe, but maybe it's more likely that this just shows us that the GOP, and Bush and his cadre in particular, really don't know anything except how to play dirty. Many of the scandals are the inevitable result of the enormous power the Republicans have wielded over the past six years, but much of their problems come from the stubborn nature of reality, which refuses to contort itself into the shape required by their ideology (on W's underdeveloped reality principle, see here). That even someone like Jonah Goldberg is realizing the Iraq War can no longer be defended is a sign of just how bad things have gotten.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

NLCS, Game 7

By Heraclitus

(Bottom of the fifth.) I really wonder about Tony LaRussa as a manager at this point. I wonder if he's sort of the Marty Schottenheimer of baseball. Great in the regular season, but too conservative in the playoffs. But then, why the hell are both Spezio and Taguchi on the bench? What does that have to do with being conservative. Here's what the Cardinals' starting lineup should be: 1. Eckstein, SS; 2. Taguchi, RF; 3. Spezio, LF; 4. Pujols, 1B; 5. Edmonds, CF; 6. Molina, C; 7. Rolen, 3B; 8. Belliard, 2B; 9. Pitcher. Trust me, that's the lineup they need.

But then again,
watching the Cardinals' hitters, they seem to have no discipline. They just swing at anything.

Perez has great movement on his pitchers. Some of them even look Pedro-esque. Maybe because he's doing that Wade Boggs thing and jumping over the first base line.

I have new respect for Joe Buck after he got that Elvis Costello reference. Although then again, it took a while, so maybe his producer whispered it into his earphones or something. By the way, what was going on the other night, when Buck referred to a picture of Tim McCarver with a Spezio-like beard as "Trotsky," and McCarver replied, "Leon Trotsky. One of my favorites!" One of the weirder things I've ever heard watching sports.

UPDATE, top of the ninth. I have sung the praises of Yadier Molina throughout this series. Now you know why.

Cardinals 3, Mets 1, Final. Wow. That was a pretty amazing game. Who'd a thunk Carlos Beltran would make the last out, striking out looking with the bases loaded?

Nevertheless, I think the Tigers will win the Series easily. And I'll be happy when they do.

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"Rugged individualism" gone awry

By Heraclitus

Amanda at Pandagon has an interesting post on Mexico's health care successes (a story Ezra Klein discussed earlier here). I just want to use these discussions as a spring board to say something about the underlying cultural or societal attitudes towards such things in the US. I'm not completely opposed to capitalism. I think it can be defended as the least brutal or most humane form of social control on offer at present. I think you can even make a slightly more positive defense of it, stressing the personal freedoms and whatnot. But then I think it's only fair to talk about the constraints the market places on all areas of people's lives, those who are ground up in the machinery of capitalism, economic rationalization, etc. But I think two cheers for capitalism, or for liberalism, is a perfectly respectable position.

I do not, however, have much sympathy for people who want to celebrate capitalism, those who usually call themselves "libertarians" (sounds better than money-grubbingtarians). I'm not going to engage in any extended criticism or airing of my differences with them, in part because I'm pressed for time, but I just want to parry them with a look at how health care debates are often framed in this country. First, the extreme moralization is noteworthy. There's a view that people should have to pay for their own health-care, because that will make them more likely to try to prevent illness and injury (George Will, for instance, has repeatedly made this argument). That's certainly true to a point, but it's odd how preventing the eventual on-set of, say, diabetes, should be someone's top priority in their life. All of us are predisposed towards some infirmity or other (or just outright fatality), but few of us making warding it off our chief concern in life. And for that, apparently, we deserve to pay through the nose when we do get sick, or sprain an ankle on an uneven sidewalk (you should have been paying closer attention).

Of course, one has to ask, if our health care system is all about prevention, why isn't it working? Why do we have such high rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, etc.? Could it be because our health care system isn't really about prevention, it's about profitting from expensive cures--or, better yet, treatments (on which see Chris Rock)--for diseases?

But even if you're willing to buy that our health care system, as a whole, does aim at prevention, or that certain justifications of it aim at prevention, compare the attitude behind this to that in Mexico or Cuba. There the emphasis is on prevention, mainly because the countries cannot afford expensive treatment regimens. But note, above all else, that their attitude is not that those who cannot afford treatment should simply be left out in the cold. Their view is rather that the goal of a public health service should be, well, to keep the public healthy. They therefore focus on keeping everybody as healthy as possible. And it works (on Mexico, see the links above. And if you haven't heard about the successes of Cuba's health care system, you need to live a little and go hang out with someone to the left of Ted Kennedy).

But the real divide between America and other countries on health care is, of course, on the question of universal health care. But I think this is just another symptom of the "rugged individualism" gone awry I mention in the title. There's already a "let them eat cake" attitude, intentional or otherwise, in the focus on expensive medications and treatments rather than prevention. That attitude is much more explicit in the rejection of universal health care. Again, the argument is usually something like, "If they're poor, they're irresponsible. Not having health care will teach them to be responsible." A more upbeat version of the argument is, "People make choices. Who am I, or the government, to impose my choices or priorities on other people in the form of taxes. If they want to spend their money on something other than health care, that's their choice." The idea that some people may not have health care because they just can't afford it (that they "choose" food and shelter instead), and that there may be structural forces keeping them in poverty, is almost never mentioned. If it is, those structural forces are identified as government regulation, and nothing else.

But, again, look at the presuppositions of this view. Society is a (very) loose collection or aggregation of individuals. There is no common good, and certainly no common obligations. Compare this to the view that the government, and other powerful entities like the medical profession (where this is not under government control or supervision) have a duty to the society as a whole. I know, I know, it's collectivist and scary, but in this case, a little investment in public health care is good for everyone because, well, fulfilling your social obligations is better than being an atomized money-grubbing philistine.

Finally, this same phenomenon is on display in much of the immigration debate. Leaving aside the overt and rampant racism usually attending such discussions, let's concentrate on the argument that illegal immigrants somehow take from public investments in things like schools without giving anything back. Again, this argument, in a breathtakingly dishonest fashion, ignores the contributions illegal immigrants make to the US economy, and more specifically the fact that several major industries in the US simply could not exist in their present form without using illegal labor. (The fact that violating the immigration laws of one country is considered, implicitly or otherwise, worse than the exploitative treatment these workers receive is a whole other problem.) This argument about the horrors of illegal immigration also ignores that the children of the immigrants, who are themselves often US citizens, will one day use their schooling to contribute wealth and other things to American society. This is where the greed and myopic individualism I've been trying to highlight in this post spirals completely out of control. The anger at having to invest in a public good like education (this anger stems from something that used to be known as vulgarity) blinds people to the fact that this investment is, in the not-so-very long term, in fact in their own interests. You don't have to be a true-believing, flag-saluting communist, or even a disaffected, sardonic one (like me), to see how this is a problem.

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By Heraclitus

...for the greatest four minutes and fifty-seven seconds of your life.

(It's a You Tube clip, which some of you may have trouble accessing at work.)

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Vive Conan!

By Heraclitus

Conan Joke #1: Whether the Mets win or lose the series, let me just say to them: at least you didn't blow a hundred million dollars on A-Rod.

Conan Joke #2: Wal-Mart has said they plan to open up more stores in communist China. When asked how it felt to work with a heartless dictatorship that denies people their basic human rights, China said, "Wal-Mart isn't quite that bad."

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Blue Wave

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Must-read of the day: Top political prognosticator Charlie Cook on "the blue wave of the future": "Election Day is three weeks from now, and unless something happens fast, this will be one of those once- or twice-in-a-generation elections when a party enjoys unbelievable gains or endures horrendous losses that prove to be the exceptions to Tip O'Neill's adage that 'all politics is local.'"

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NLCS, Game 6

By Heraclitus

My rage knows no bounds. Why the hell is Scott Rolen batting ahead of Yadier Molina? Why is he batting ahead of Ronnie Belliard? Come to think of it, why is he batting at all?

Seriously, with their supposed Cy Young-caliber pitcher starting tonight, the Cardinals have to win. I actually don't think their offense has yet had the kind of game it can. So one way or another, the Cardinals should win this game. But what just happened in the top of the first is not a good start.

Then again, neither is this gee dee lead-off home run in the bottom of the first.

UPDATE, top of the third: Yeah, okay, we get it, David Wright. You want to be Derek Jeter, but you're afraid to actually dive into the stands after the ball.

Lookin' good, Spezio (that's in reference to a strikeout).

UPDATE, middle of the sixth. Okay, I don't mean to bash Rolen too mercilessly, but did you see that "hustle" on that double play? Edmonds slid into second, delayed Valentin by at least a second, and Rolen was still out by at least two steps. Terrible. By the way, just to reiterate my point from the other night, I think Valentin is instrumental to the Mets' success. Nothing gets by him, and I haven't seen him make an error. His play has simply been superb.

FINAL UPDATE, end of the eighth. Mets 4, Cards 0. I really don't understand the Cardinals. If you're reading this, you probably know who they have in their lineup. But for all the power (and average) they have, it's not at all uncommon for them to just be blanked in big games like this. So, we "get" a game seven, I suppose. I still think St. Louis can have a big game from their offense, so who knows what to expect. But, at this point, I'm still rooting for the Cardinals, but I'm expecting the Mets to win. The one hope for St. Louis, I think, is that Suppan is pitching, and he did very well earlier in the series. So, we'll see. Okay, that's a little to non-committal to end with. Um... go Cardinals!

Well, aitch's bells, maybe this isn't over. Rolen finally delivers with a great double and then, with runners on second and third, Belliard has what was maybe the worst at-bat in playoff history. Come to think of it, he had some weird play at second earlier that cost them a double-play. Methinks, perhaps, the fix is on...Anyways, then Molina flies out. Then So Taguchi has a splendid two-run double. Have I not said he needs to be in the starting line-up? Okay, back to the top of the order, two outs... and Eckstein grounds out to second. So, Game Six is over, 4-2, Mets. But they cannot feel good about putting Billy Wagner back out, should the need arise in Game Seven. So, we'll see -- oh, I mean, go Cardinals!

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1994 all over again, in reverse

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Are Democrats poised for victory in November? A new NBC/WSJ poll says yes -- well, maybe. The Dems are in pretty good shape -- or, rather, the Republicans are in truly terrible shape. Indeed, "the Republican Party is on more unstable ground than Democrats were in 1994". And you know what happened back then. History may be about to be repeated.

Unless Republicans, as seems ever more likely with each passing political disaster, succeed in terrifying voters with the specter of imminent terrorism. Even that might not be enough to stave off defeat, given their massive and well-deserved unpopularity, but, running on empty, terrifying votes is what they'll try to do. As Creature put it just now, the fear is about to begin.

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Are you ready for some terror?

By Creature

Here we go.

The Department of Homeland Security warned officials on Wednesday in seven U.S. cities about a dirty-bomb threat to National Football League stadiums but does not believe the threat is credible, officials said.

The threat, posted on Monday on an Internet site, said bombs containing radioactive material known as "dirty" bombs had been smuggled into the United States and would be used to attack professional football stadiums this Sunday, the department said.

The threat is not credible. The officials in charge are skeptical. An abundance of caution is being used. And the election is twenty days away. Let the fear begin.

Read more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Wheels coming off the GOP bus

By Heraclitus

First Bush has to call a meeting to shore up his support among conservative talk-show hosts like Dr. Laura, Michael Medved, and, yes, even Sean effing Hannity. Now Bill O'Reilly has taken him on over waterboarding, demanding to know whether the US government is doing it. Bush avoids answering, and O'Reilly replies.

But if the public doesn't know what torture is or is not, as defined by the Bush administration, how can the public make a decision on whether your policy is right or wrong?

Damn, Bill O'Reilly is better on torture than the Democrats. Nice work, gents (and ladies, of course). Andrew Sullivan has more.


UPDATE: But just as New York City is not the United States, so Bill O'Reilly is not Fox News. The invaluable Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post on the new torture/detention bill signed by Bush, and how it was covered on Fox News. Please read it.

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James Dobson, child torturer

By Heraclitus

A week or so ago, when I wrote about two new wingnut books coming out soon, I mentioned the stand-up work Michael Bérubé has done exposing crackpots like Dinesh D'Souza and David Horowitz to much-deserved ridicule. I somehow forgot to mention his treatment of James Dobson, of "Focus on the Family" fame. More recently, David Kuo has disclosed that higher-ups in the White House thought Dobson "had to be controlled." They didn't know how right they were. Check out
Bérubé's post on how Dobson wants you to "discipline" your child.

In books like Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child: Birth through Adolescence, Dr. Dobson promoted an entire regime of child torture, starting with the wooden spoons and moving right through neck-pinching, with special tips on how to produce maximal pain on tiny necks while leaving minimal physical signs of abuse. How could I have forgotten? So this is why these people didn’t have any problem with Abu Ghraib!

That's right, Dobson isn't talking about spanking your kids. He's talking about torturing them, and he knows damned well this is child abuse, so he gives you helpful hints on how to hide the abuse. Bérubé's post is worth reading in full. Yea, wingnuts!!

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Is he or isn't he?

By Heraclitus

By now you've probably all heard that Michael Rogers, a gay blogger and activist, has claimed that Larry Craig, a Republican Senator from Idaho, is teh gay. Craig, as you've probably also all heard, has three children and nine grand-children, and has dismissed the allegations, through his spokesman, as "laughable." I don't automatically believe Rogers, but I also don't see why he would pick such a relatively obscure target if he were just looking to embarass a conservative, anti-gay Republican. It's interesting to me that Andrew Sullivan has said nothing about this, given that he has discussed the question of forcible "outing" in the past, always negatively. I'm not inferring anything from his silence, I'm just wondering what he would say.

Meanwhile, whether you believe the claims or not, the right-wing response has been predictable. Apparently, "the Left hates gays," and it's simply an outrage that someone would be discussing a politician's private sexual practices in public. Glenn Greenwald does an excellent job of exposing this latter piece of horseshit for what it is, giving an extensive list of all, or at least many, of the right-wing's recent obsessions with Democrats' sexual lives (at the top of the list is, of course, the Cleanis). This sentence should give you a sense of GG's post: "
That Bush followers are drowning in the most transparent and rancid hypocrisy is hardly news."

What to make of this? I think the frenzied right-wing spinning does not make Craig's denial more feasible. I'm assuming that GOP insiders know when a Republican is gay, as they seemed to with Foley, and any response other than bemused dismissal makes the claims seem true. According to Shakespeare's Sister, Craig has been denying rumors that he's gay for 24 years. On the other hand, Craig's own response was indeed bemused dismissal. I don't think he could have handled it any better. So, my own thoughts are that there's really no way of telling, and since I don't really care if he likes men or not, I don't plan to think about this anymore after finishing this post (but then why am I writing it? When in Blogistan...). But I do enjoy seeing so many mendacious right-wing bloggers squirm and squeal.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has now weighed in on the outing, which he doesn't even suggest might be mistaken (although that's really beside the point he's making). Sullivan characterizes this outing and others like it as
"using tactics that depend on homophobia to work, that violate privacy, that demonize gay people." It obviously violates privacy, and that is of course an ethical objection one could make to this kind of thing. But I'm not sure how it relies on homophobia or demonizes gay people. Surely a major point of such outings is to humiliate the outee, to expose his hypocrisy, and this is clearly cruel. But presumably an important goal is also to show how stupid it is to try to judge people on their professed sexual orientation. It could be that as a straight man, I just don't understand the psychology of the outing. But on the face of it, I don't see how this "demonizes gay people," since the only people who will think Craig is a horrible person for liking other dudes are already homophobes. Meanwhile, the charge of hypocrisy is always a powerful one, and outings like this may indeed chip away support for the anti-gay wing of the GOP, both within its own ranks and especially among more moderate folks. To some Craig might seem like a monster (assuming he is gay); to others he just seems pathetic, and another example of why homophobia in our society is so stupid and destructive. I'm not saying I support this practice (I really don't have a principled stand on it either way), I just don't see, at this point, how it demonizes gays.

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North Korea's nuclear follow-up

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Get ready for a second North Korean nuclear test. (The Times reports here, citing South Korean and Japanese officials.) The first one may or may not have been a great dud, but, regardless, Pyongyang, which views sanctions as a declaration of war, will be out to prove itself this time.

And then what? Therein lies the dilemma.

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Dick Cheney may be the most dangerous idiot of all

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Which many of you know this already, but consider the latest evidence (from Think Progress): Dick went on Rush yesterday and discussed Iraq. He admitted "[i]t's still very, very difficult, very tough," which is obvious to anyone who's paying attention to the chaos that is that country, but he also made two extraordinary (or, by his standards, really quite ordinary) comments:

1) Iraq is "the 'major front' of the war on terror" -- To the extent that it's a front at all, it's only because the U.S. is there. But we know that there were no pre-war ties between Iraq and al Qaeda and that the Iraq War has in fact worsened the threat of global terrorism. The Bushies, led by Cheney, continue to lie about this.

2) The Iraqi government is "doing remarkably well". Really? The country seems to be on the brink of collapse. The violence is rampant (and spreading) the level of killing, whatever the actual numbers, is simply horrendous, and the sectarianism seems to be an insurmountable problem (forget reconciliation). Plus, Maliki seems to be living in a bubble. So how exactly is the Iraqi government "doing remarkably well"? I suppose it all depends on the meaning of "well".

I say that Cheney is a dangerous idiot, but does he actually believe his own lies? Does he believe his own truthiness? Given how little he seems to smile, it doesn't surprise me that he can spew this nonsense with a straight face, but his unwillingness and/or inability to see Iraq and the war for what they really are reflect irresponsibility of the highest order.

His ongoing occupation of a position of enormous power only makes such irresponsibility, such gross misconduct of leadership, all the more frightening.

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Calling all ideologues

By Heraclitus

I'm no admirer of The New York Times, but John Tierney strikes even me as an embarassment for the paper. He recently wrote a column arguing that Wal-Mart should get a Noble Prize for lifting more people out of poverty than the Grameen Foundation. Whether you find this risible or infuriating, you'll enjoy Echidne's shredding of his thesis. The high point of her argument:

[M]icrolending schemes encourage independence and self-determination and put power into the hands of very ordinary village people, most of them women, by the way, who were earlier quite powerless and often even scorned. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, prefers its workers meek and without other options.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In praise of truthiness

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's the one-year anniversary of The Colbert Report today. I wasn't sure it would work, Colbert as O'Reilly et al. on a nightly basis, but the show has been more than a pleasant surprise. It has been, and continues to be, essential viewing.

Head on over to Colbert Nation for more.

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Propaganda machine

By Michael J.W. Stickings

All spin, no substance. In desperation, with sagging approval ratings and the prospect of Republican defeat next month, Bush energizes his talk-radio propagandists, the purveyors of mis- and disinformation to the faithful and thoughtless, those drooling clones who either don't know any better or refuse to know any better. (Joe Gandelman explains.)

What do you think Bush is saying to them here?

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Mostly bad news on Darfur

By Heraclitus

Yes, it's Tuesday, so it must be time for another post on how dismal the world's reaction to Darfur has been and continues to be. This time, however, there is a
little good news coming out of Darfur. Apparently, the Sudanese army has suffered some defeats in the regions. It seems to be something of a pitched battle, with Darfur rebels and the Chadian army fighting on one side, and Chadian rebels and the Sudanese army on the other.

This little bit of good news, however, is outweighed by the news that, in response to their army's failure, the Sudanese government is re-mobilizing the Janjaweed militias (in contravention of UN resolutions). In case there's anyone on the planet who really believes that the Sudanese government isn't in league with the Janjaweed:

A former Janjaweed fighter "Ali" now living in London has told the BBC that Sudanese ministers gave express orders for the activities of his unit, which included rape and killing children.

He told the Newsnight programme that Janjaweed fighters would go into Darfur villages after they had been bombed by the air force.


Envoys from the United States and the UK have visited Sudan this week, but the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Khartoum says the international community is at a loss to stop Darfur's violence.

Our reporter says efforts to persuade Sudan to accept United Nations peacekeepers have failed, with Khartoum seeming determined to pursue a military solution.

Two hundred thousand killed, two million displaced (and I expect those are conservative estimates). What would it take for the world to take this seriously? An attack by Mothra?

UPDATE: The BBC has more on the relation between Khartoum and the Janjaweed, including specific orders from the Sudanese government to rape women and kill children.

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Feds raid homes in investigation of GOP Congressman

By Heraclitus

The news just keeps getting better for the Republicans. Bob Ney, a Republican Congressman from Ohio,
pled guilty on Friday to charges of corrruption stemming from the investigation of legendary influence-peddler and, well, crook, Jack Abramoff. That was more or less successfully buried over the weekend. But now the FBI has raided the homes of Curt Weldon's (R-PA) daughter and of one of his closest political allies. The investigation centers on whether Weldon used his influence as a Congressman to help a lobbying firm run by his daughter and Charles Sexton, the political ally in question. Basically, Weldon lobbied, in Congress and elsewhere, for one of his daughter's largest clients, a Russian oil and gas firm, when charges of corruption were hurting its business in the US:

The congressman, for example, intervened on Itera's behalf when U.S. officials canceled a federal grant to the company. He also encouraged U.S. companies to do business with Itera at a time when its reputation had been sullied by accusations of Russian corruption.

Weldon said in a prepared statement that he had done nothing wrong and would cooperate in the investigation "100 percent." Michael Puppio, a campaign spokesman, said Weldon hoped that "reliance on leaks would cease and the media would rely on facts that are verifiable."

Weldon said that the House ethics committee looked into the allegations in 2004 "and found that I had engaged in no wrongdoing." He said he was "extremely disappointed that we are discussing this topic three weeks before an election that could determine control of Congress."

Granted, this has none of the skeezy punch of Masturgate, and so will probably play out in the media much more quickly, but it can't help the Republicans. Unless, of course, people decide that the FBI is playing politics, and Democratic politics at that, by conducting these searches now. Stranger things have happened.

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Cheney fun-facts

By Creature

I think I'm going to be ill.

Grace Mosier lives with her mom and dad, goes to birthday parties, takes ballet classes and is just like a lot of other 6-year-old girls. Except that she happens to be obsessed with Dick Cheney.

“I really, really like him,” says Grace, who can tell you what state the vice president was born in (Nebraska), where he went to grade school (College View, in Lincoln) and the names of his dogs (Dave and Jackson). She gets her fix of Cheney fun-facts by visiting the White House Web site for children. It says there that his favorite teacher was Miss Duffield and that he used to run a company called Halliburton.

Funny, when I was a kid I was obsessed with zombies too.

Normally I'd tell you to read more, but really, why ruin your day.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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The land of the free and the home of 300 million

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There are now about 300 million people in the United States. Yes, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population of the United States will reach (or reached, depending on when you're reading this) 300 million at 7:46 am ET today, the timestamp on this post.

And with a net gain of one person every 11 seconds, the population is rapidly increasing: "America claimed 100 million people in 1915 but didn't reach 200 million until 1967. The 400 millionth person is likely to arrive in 2043, according to the Census Bureau."

For more, see the BBC, ABC News (which looks at the demographics), and MSNBC (which looks at the environmental impacts). The U.S. Census Bureau site, which includes U.S. and world population clocks, is here.

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Guatemala deserves our gratitude

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Because Venezuela must be kept off the U.N. Security Council. Guatemala did well enough to hold off Chavez's rogue tyranny yesterday, but voting to fill the Council's open Latin American seat resumes today. A compromise candidate may emerge. Just so long as Venezuela, which surprised with its poor showing, doesn't somehow pull out a victory.


Also, check out this interesting interactive map on politics in Latin America.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XVIII

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It's getting worse:

The escalating violence in the Tigris River towns in many ways serves as a microcosm of the daily violence roiling Iraq. Sectarian attacks have increased more than tenfold since the start of the year and now claim more than 100 victims a day, according to the Iraqi government.

This is an important article. It reveals a country on the brink of collapse. Please read it in full.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Possible coup in North Korea?

By Heraclitus

This seems like a huge story. The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Chinese government is openly discussing a possible coup in North Korea after Kim Jong-Il's nuclear test.

THE Chinese are openly debating "regime change" in Pyongyang after last week's nuclear test by their confrontational neighbour...

More than one Chinese academic agreed that China yearned for an uprising similar to the one that swept away the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and replaced him with communist reformers and generals. The Chinese made an intense political study of the Romanian revolution and even questioned president Ion Iliescu, who took over, about how it was done and what roles were played by the KGB and by Russia.

Mr Kim, for his part, ordered North Korean leaders to watch videos of the swift and chaotic trial and execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, the vice-prime minister, as a salutary exercise...

Hinting at the options, Chinese online military commentators have exposed plots and purges inside North Korea that were previously unknown or unconfirmed. They have described three attempted coups that ended in bloodshed.

Now, my experience with coups is limited at best. But I can't imagine that openly discussing the possibility is going to make for a more successful coup. Moreoever, the discussion of these three other previous coups (there's more information in the article linked to above) is ambiguous. Was China involved in these coups? If so, their failure seems to argue against China's ability to pull off regime change, even if they decide to try it. And if China has not been involved before, but wants to "sponsor" a coup now, that takes us back to question of whether talking about it is really the best strategy.

has more on China's reaction to the test. One of China's chief problems with North Korea is the steady flow of refugees into China. The sanctions on North Korea would presumably only make this problem worse, while a coup may dispose of it altogether. On the other hand, China appears to be redoubling its efforts to build a giant wall along its border with North Korea, which is perhaps all that they plan to do to stop the refugees. So, although I'm obviously not privy to the plans of the Chinese government, all of this seems to me more like saber rattling, a vocal show of just how displeased they are with Kim Jong-Il, and of how much support he's lost, than a preparation for a coup. But then, I picked the Cardinals to win the NCLS, so what do I know?

In related news, both China and South Korea have announced that they
don't plan on significantly curtailing their business with North Korea, UN sanctions or no (although at this point there seems to be enough confusion about what exactly the sanctions require that this cannot be seen as an outright dismissal of the sanctions).

Incidentally, I think this column by Anne Applebaum, "
Auschwitz Under Our Noses," is still required reading for any discussion of North Korea. Yesterday's Times (London) has more on North Korea's obsession with eugenics and on the generally hellish character of life in that country. They are literally killing babies.

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The GOP and the religious right

By Heraclitus

Following on Michael's earlier post about David Kuo's new book (and following also, of course, on all the other coverage it's gotten), I add the following two cents, inspired largely by this post by Amanda at Pandagon. I can't help but think that all of this is going to greatly strengthen the hand of the religious right in the Republican Party. If, as people seem increasingly confident predicting (note that it's all Stickings), the Democrats score a significant victory in these midterm elections, and the religious right sits out the election because they feel betrayed and insulted by the GOP leadership, I expect that this circumstance will be the most common explanation of the Republican loss. It will look like a replay of 1992, when Bush the Elder lost because "the base" either stayed home or voted Perot. W. learned the lesson, and bent over backwards to appeal to or appease that base, hiring Karl Rove, speaking at Bob Jones "University," dropping religious-right codewords all over the place, and generally running the Bible-thumpin'est primary campaign ever. If I were a member of the religious right, I would view Kuo's book as, well, a Godsend.

Granted, it's looked for a while, at least to some people, as if much of the country has been "trending" Democratic or blue. Less optimistically, the Republicans have been shooting themselves in the foot, with ever larger guns, for some time now. It may well be that the Republicans would have lost in any case, or that the religious right would have been turned off by things like Foleygate even without Kuo's book. But, to be perfectly honest, if I were a Republican strategist, I wouldn't bet on any of that. I wouldn't even consider it for more than a few seconds. Unfortunate for those of us who don't much care for the religious right's agenda, but I think those are simply the facts.

And this raises the question of whether this book was designed to do just this, to torpedo the Republicans' campaign so as to teach them once and for all who their daddy is (and yes, I meant for that to sound as creepy as possible). To be honest, I don't see Kuo as being that kind of hard-boiled politico. Based on the quotes I've read, I actually find his
naïveté touching. There's this explanation for why he wrote the book, for instance (these quotes are taken from this post by Pam Spaulding, also at Pandagon):

“I have this burden on my heart that the name of God is just being destroyed in the name of politics. I felt like I had to write this…People are being manipulated. Good well-meaning people are being told, ‘Send your money to this Christian advocacy group or that.’ And that’s the answer. It’s just not the answer. It’s not the answer.”

It turns out that the GOP power-brokers in Washington have nothing but contempt for the hicks back in the Bible belt who put them into power (and who will end up paying for so much of their tax-cut-and-spend class warfare). You have to be a little amazed at Kuo's amazement, but it seems genuine. Even more touching, in my opinion, is his apparent guilelessness regarding the true concerns of his allies on the religious right.

Part of the problem, he says, was indifference from “the base,” the religious right. He took 60 Minutes to a convention of evangelical groups – his old stomping ground - and walked around the display booths, looking for any reference to the poor.

You’ve got homosexuality in your kid’s school, and you’ve got human cloning, and partial birth abortion and divorce and stem cell,” Kuo remarked. “Not a mention of the poor.”

This message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda - as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” says Kuo.

Reading this, I can only think of the words of the Athenian ambassadors to the Melians, "We bless your innocence, but do not envy your simplicity." David Kuo seems like a genuine Christian, someone more concerned with living the Beatitudes than with grabbing as much political and economic power as possible, but it's unfortunate that his book will most likely aid those very allies he has repudiated in the name of God.

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The misogyny in the air we breathe

By Heraclitus

Bob Herbert has an excellent column today on the recent spate of shootings that targeted only girls, and how this is part of a larger pattern of objectification and misogyny that permeates our society. The column is available in full here (sorry, New York Times, looks like there's a hole in your little gated community), and is well worth reading in its entirety. Herbert begins by noting that in the recent school shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania, only girls were killed (and, in the Colorado case, molested).

In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.

There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.

The reasons for this silence are, of course, complex, but Herbert identifies what is surely a major factor, probably the most important one. These murders took place in a society that isn't just constantly selling sex. It's constantly selling a dehumanized version of sex, one that is defined by male domination and comsumption and female submission and destruction. The promise of sexual pleasure is not enough; the woman must be degraded and reduced to an object to be owned and consumed. As Elvis Costello wrote almost three decades ago, "You want her broken with her mouth wide open, 'cause she's this year's girl." Herbert provides more recent examples.

The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, “When was the last time you got screwed?”

An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman’s face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.

The silence that Herbert notes is even stranger when one considers how integral women are to everyone's lives. Even for most people living in large, multicultural cities, opposition to racism or religious bigotry is more a matter of principle than it is of immediate concern for those closest to them. But the dehumanizing misogyny Herbert identifies and describes so well hurts many men as well: imagine what it must be like to be the father of one of the girls killed in Pennsylvania. My point of course is not that men are the real victims here, but that the degradation and humiliation of women, whether by gun-toting murderers or by drunken yahoos at baseball games, doesn't only hurt women. Yet men remain mostly silent, despite the fact that the writing is often literally on the wall. What does this say about the male psyche in our society?

For more see Echidne and Feministing.

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Presidential hypocrisy: How Bush lied to evangelicals to get their votes

By Michael J.W. Stickings

David Kuo, a former member of Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, appeared on 60 Minutes yesterday. In the interview with Lesley Stahl, Kuo said that White House staffers called evangelicals "nuts" and "goofy," that "important Christian leader[s]" were "mocked by serious people in serious places," that people in the White House called Pat Robertson "insane" and Jerry Falwell "ridiculous," and that it was determined that James Dobson "had to be controlled".

All this on top of Kuo's completely credible assertion that President Bush was never serious about implementing his so-called "compassionate" agenda, that it was all political, that many up top bought into the politics: "This message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda -- as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference."

The White House is fighting back -- in predictable fashion. It calls his new book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, "ridiculous". The ad hominem attacks have begun. That's how Bush's White House works. If you can't win on the substance -- and they can't -- go personal. Swiftboat them. Destroy them. Kuo is just the latest dissenter, the latest insider source, the latest target.

The hypocrisy is evident. Bush used (and clearly still uses) the religious right for political gain. He often says what it wants to hear, and he may somewhere in his heart be there himself, but his real goal has long been to benefit his corner of the oligarchy as much as possible -- through tax cuts for the wealthy, industrial and environmental deregulation, the partial privatization of social security, pharma-friendly health care, and the like. His neoconservatism in foreign policy is new, post-9/11. And his so-called "compassionate conservatism" has been about turning out the vote, that is, about getting himself elected.

And yet, though I find the hypocrisy distasteful, I cannot criticize Bush for not doing enough for evangelicals. Kuo is a critic on the right, after all. For him, Bush just wasn't politically evangelical enough. For me, a social liberal who opposes evangelism in the White House, just as I tend to oppose religion in politics generally, Bush's White House was right not to push any sort of "compassionate" agenda. Note the distinction, though: It was right not to push the agenda, but it was not right to go about it the way it did. For this, I hope evangelicals see Bush for what he is and stay away from the polls in November. All Bush ever wanted was their votes, after all, votes that would buy access but no power.

Indeed, I am tempted for the first time in a long time to say something positive about Bush's White House. In my view, it speaks well of it, to review, that White House staffers called evangelicals "nuts" and "goofy," that "important Christian leader[s]" were "mocked by serious people in serious places," that people in the White House called Pat Robertson "insane" and Jerry Falwell "ridiculous," and that it was determined that James Dobson "had to be controlled".

There has been so much nonsense from this White House, if I may be so euphemistic, but these ad hominem attacks, ones that Kuo himself has no doubt already been on the receiving end of, suggest that in some hypocritical and dysfunctional way there was some sense there on this matter at least.

(h/t: Crooks and Liars, which has the video.)

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Endorsing the Governator

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The L.A. Times has endorsed Schwarzenegger for governor: "Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a solid, pragmatic governor who has steered a moderate course for California. He deserves a sequel."

I don't follow California politics all that closely, but it has struck me that Democratic challenger Phil Angelides isn't much of a candidate. And, of course, Schwarzenegger isn't much of a Republican, at least in national terms, which helps with mainstream California voters. And on an issue that is extremely important to me, climate change, he has been quite progressive, joining up with Tony Blair and promoting efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. So, too, on such issues as stem-cell research and the minimum wage.

None of which is to say that I would necessarily vote for him if I could, nor even that I intend to express my support for him here, but, well, at least four more years of the Governator would be entertaining -- even, or especially, to those of us who don't live in California. And perhaps four more years of Schwarzenegger in Sacramento would work out well not only for Californians but, on issues like climate change, for the rest of us, too.

For more, see my good friend and San Diego resident Joe Gandelman over at The Moderate Voice.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

So what's up in Ecuador?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Funny you should ask. As you may know, we at The Reaction devote some of our blogging to international election coverage, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- Ecuador held a presidential election today. Voting was mandatory, for such is the law, and there were 13 candidates running for the top job.

According to exit polls, as reported by the BBC, Ecuador's wealthiest man, Alvaro Noboa (a banana tycoon, no less), and a leftist economist with a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Rafael Correa (a friend of Hugo Chavez, no less), finished 1-2 (yet both with under 28% of the vote).

The run-off election between Noboa and Correa will be held on November 26.

(Like France, Ecuador uses this two-round system for presidential elections. It uses a List-Proportional Representation system for parliamentary elections -- also held today.)


The winner of the last presidential election, held in 2002, was Lucio Gutiérrez (Noboa finished second). Amid crisis and public protests, he was removed from office in April 2005 by the National Congress and replaced by Vice President Alfredo Palacio, soon to be the country's outgoing president (he did not run in today's election). Interesting stuff, not least because Gutiérrez just won't go away.

For more, see here. I didn't know that "[i]n the last 10 years, three presidents have been forced to resign by a combination of mass demonstrations and political manoeuvring in parliament". Indeed, one of those presidents, Abdala Bucaram, was known as "El Loco" and declared "mentally incapacitated" by Congress. This analysis from the BBC also suggests that Correa could face a united opposition in the run-off election.

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