Monday, July 31, 2006

Sistani weighs in

The Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani weighs in demanding a ceasefire (HT: Sullivan):

``Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire,'' al-Sistani said in a clear reference to the United States.

``It is not possible to stand helpless in front of this Israeli aggression on Lebanon,'' he added. ``If an immediate cease-fire in this Israeli aggression is not imposed, dire consequences will befall the region.''
This is an important development, as Sistani had been instrumental in helping the U.S. maintain calm in Iraq and getting the Iraqi elections to happen. It cannot be good when such a figure starts warning of "dire consequences".

It must be very frustrating to be Israel right now. Sort of like being the United States after 9/11. Who do you get to hit back? How do you fight an opponent who scores point when it kills your civilians, but also scores points when you kill its civilians? (Or rather, nearby civilians. Since Hezbollah isn't a state, I don't think they get to have civilians.) That hardly seems fair. Hezbollah wants the destruction of Israel. It cynically uses the Lebanese population as human shields and uses their corpses as propaganda tools, but it doesn't seem to actually take steps to ensure they don't suffer. Israel has every right to defend itself from daily rocket bombardments.

On the other hand, just because you're in an awful situation doesn't mean stupid actions become smart ones. I would have a much easier time supporting Israel if its actions seemed at all capable of achieving its strategic objectives (which I understand to be neutralizing Hezbollah's ability to launch attacks on Israel). The bombing of Lebanon and these sporadic incursions and withdrawals just seem to be vengeful lashing out without any thought to the long-term consequences. The strategic objectives I've heard aobut (e.g. the 2 km buffer zone) seem to be tacked on post-hoc justifications for what are essentially revenge attacks.

It's hard to believe that just a short time ago a lot of Arab governments were condemning Hezbollah for its attacks. With a little more patience, Israel might have been able to build its case against Hezbollah and have been able to proceed militarily with enough legitimacy (or at least a willingness to look away) that it could have made some kind of progress. Or they might have been able to use Hezbollah's attacks to turn world opinion against Syria and Iran. But by inflicting such horrendous slaughter on Lebanese civilians, they are simultaneously lowering themselves morally and making themselves look weak.

I used to joke that the US invaded Iraq becaue we envied the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. Now it seems that Israel is sort-of invading Lebanon because they envy the US-Iraq quagmire.

The United States desperately needs a leader with a greater understanding of what is going in the Middle East, and one who is willing to use every tool (diplomatic, economic, rhetorical, and yes, military) to cobble together a "least bad" situation. Unfortunately for us and the world, we have the exact wrong person for the job.

Many historians have argued about the "Great man theory" of history. This theory states that one should look at the personal characteristics of leaders when studying history rather than broader social, religious, economic, technological, military, demographic, or geographic trends. I've always shied away from the Great man theory, but maybe I'd be willing to subscribe to a "Great idiot theory". The Middle East would certainly be rife with hatred and violence no matter who was president of the United States. But I bet it does make a differnce if POTUS is trying to calm things down rather than cheering on the violence.

Why are we funding our enemies?

In the numerous conflicts that the Bush administration insists on lumping together in "The War on Terror"(TM), the United States often seems to be funding both sides of the conflict. Not always directly, but certainly signficantly.

Some examples:

Osama Bin Laden: Got his money from Saudi construction wealth. And this is but one step away from oil wealth. The United States buys a lot of oil (to be fair, other countries do too), and backs the Saudi Regime that shelters and funds the Wahabist Sunni ideologues that give rise to Al Qaeda.

Iran: Gets most of its money from oil, and supports Hezbollah and various Shiite militias operating in Iraq. Our high energy consumption funds the Iranian regime, which from what I can tell is as frightening in its ambitions as the neocon warmongers are painting it. (I hasten to add that airstrikes on Tehran are probably not going to make Iran any less frightening.)

Afghanistan: No oil here, but we're addicted to something else they produce: Opium poppies for heroin. Because of the criminalization of drugs, poppies are an excellent cash crop from the warlords and Taliban whom we are still fighting in southern and eastern Afghanistan. With a more sensible policy, we could both undercut their funding and abandon our poppy eradication projects, which drive local farmers into the arms of our opponents.

If we implemented some kind of broad energy tax (with offsets in other areas to counter the regressive aspects), we could do a lot to de-fund the regimes that are hostile to us. People and industry aren't going to conserve energy or switch to alternative energy sources without a major financial incentive to do so. An energy tax could create such an incentive. And the revenue could be used...well the revenue would probably have to be used for offsets and to stem the tide of red ink...but if there were some money available we could use it to fund research into alternative fuel technologies that are more environmentally friendly and don't give money to our enemies.

Similarly, de-criminalizing drugs would free up a lot of our nation's resources, remove a source of funding for thugs worldwide, and help people get treatment instead of jail time.

I'm safe from the draft!

Well, if this administration ever decides to renew the draft, I'll be safe. What gives me such confidence? I'm an actor. And I guess that's tantamount to being openly gay, as far as the military is concerned. Of course, I've mainly been involved with professional theater, rather than community theater. So maybe that doesn't count.

By the way, if they do institute the draft, will anyone be able to dodge it by claiming to be gay? Did anyone do this back in the Vietnam era?

UPDATE: Conservative (in the Colbert sense of the word) Jon Swift is thankful that community theater actors are being kept out of the military:
But community theater players are different. You can spot them a mile away by the way they overemote, declaim too loudly and don't seem to know what to do with their hands. There is no way that such people can fit into our well-oiled military machine. Amateur actors are also easily prone to blackmail. All the enemy would have to do is offer one of them a lead in a local Iraqi production of Jesus Christ Superstar and he would be spilling our most guarded military secrets. I'm glad to see that the Pentagon has its priorities straight, so to speak, in keeping these bad actors out of the theater of battle.

Belts for Youth

I was thinking of starting a charity called "Belts for Youth" that would raise money to purchase belts for young males, many of whom seem so destitute that they can't afford belts and thus their baggy pants fall down in a most embarrassing manner. But it seems that any such move would earn me the ire of police departments everywhere. According to this post on Rhetoric & Rhythm that quotes the Wall Street Journal, the police seem to like this sorry state of sartorial affairs:
Baggy Pants Often Trip Up Thieves
Perpetrators wearing low-slung, baggy pants fairly regularly get tripped up in their getaways, a development that has given amused police officers and law-abiding citizens a welcome edge in the fight against crime.


Just about every week, Jim Matheny, a 41-year-old police lieutenant in Stamford, Conn., says he gets into a foot chase with youths. He says it’s getting easier to capture them because they can’t run fast or far in those loose jeans.
“When I catch them, I tell them they’d do much better if they had pants that fit,” he says. “It’s like: ‘Hey dude, buy a belt and save yourself some trouble.’”

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Downward Spiral Continues

Billmon has been essential in keeping track of the horror unfolding in the Middle East (and unfolding in our own minds as we realize what kind of person Bush is). I'll just link and quote:

There is, however, a big risk, which is that Sheikh Nasrallah, the Hizbullah leader, will soon feel compelled by pressure from his own clueless hotheads to unleash the Tel Aviv rockets. This would force Israel to respond with some sort of savage escalation, and since the only available instrument is pure terror bombing [unless Jerusalem wants to take the war to downtown Damascus] the civilian death toll would probably soar even higher.

Welcome to the "new" Middle East -- the geopolitical equivalent of the "new" Coke. The recipe may be different, but it still tastes like blood.

Also, here's a pessimistic analysis from an Israeli military analyst:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the figure leading the strategy of changing the situation in Lebanon, not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or Defense Minister Amir Peretz. She has so far managed to withstand international pressure in favor of a cease-fire, even though this will allow Hezbollah to retain its status as a militia armed by Iran and Syria.

As such, she needs military cards, and unfortunately Israel has not succeeded to date in providing her with any. Besides bringing Hezbollah and Lebanon under fire, all of Israel's military cards at this stage are in the form of two Lebanese villages near the border that have been captured by the IDF.

If the military cards Israel is holding do not improve with the continuation of the fighting, it will result in a diplomatic solution that will leave the Hezbollah rocket arsenal in southern Lebanon in its place. The diplomatic solution will necessarily be a reflection of the military realities on the ground.

Why we need to Crash the Gate

Via Atrios, MyDD has an excellent post on why the current crop of establishment Democratic consultants has to go:
Follow the money. If you want to know why Democrats keep losing, don't offer advice, follow the money and get your hands dirty. You see, Democrats aren't losing because they are stupid. Democrats are losing because a significant portion of the operative class is paid to undermine successful populist positions. Just follow the money.
And where are these campaign consultants getting their money?
All of these lobbyists/PR people (including Steve Elmendorf) have telecom companies as their clients, and are working against net neutrality. If you want to know why the Democratic party has a muddled message, look no further than the conflicts of interest in trying to run a populist campaign when your other clients have a direct financial interest in not seeing a campaign like that succeed.
[emphasis added] Again, Democrats need to rid themselves of these losers. Why would I hire someone to run my campaign if they get the majority of their money from various corporate interests? Won't they end up serving the interests of those who pay them the most money? If I'm running a campaign, shouldn't my operatives be primarily loyal to me and the party? That's the central thesis of Crashing the Gate (see sidebar).

In many ways, the Lieberman-Lamont primary battle is a proxy war between the Democratic "operative class" and the dissatisfied voters and activists (and bloggers) who are sick of them. That's why this race has attracted so much attention.

Minnesota Evangelical disowns right wing

Mad Latinist/Justin sent me a link to this NYT story, which describes an evangelical megachurch preacher in Maplewood, MN who has explicitly disavowed right-wing Republican politics. Sullivan links to the article as an example of Christian backlash against Christianism. Just as I am happy to see the conservative movement breaking up over neoconservative radicalism, I'm happy to see the evangelical movement break up over theocratic radicalism. For too long, evangelicals have been used as cannon fodder in the "culture wars", and I'm glad some of them who aren't interested in that role are speaking up.

I'm not as optimistic as Sullivan that this movement is growing. I've heard little stories here and there, but I'm waiting for some big, national political fight where non-Christianist evangelicals make a visible impact. And I'm not sure how many evangelicals are actually theocrats at heart and how many aren't. But I do hope we hear more and more of this kind of evangelical rebellion against Republican politics.

MSM using "Iraq=Failure" frame

This Kos diary by VoteHarder makes an interesting point:
Second, the implication of the CBS headline ["Will Lebanon become Israel's Iraq?"] is that Bush's war in Iraq has reached such a low point that the media feels comfortable enough to conclude that the public has turned against the war, that they can use the Iraq-gone-bad conclusion to anchor their stories on other matters, i.e., the situation in Lebanon.

The passion of the drunken anti-Semite

I stole that headline from this Pandagon post. Apparently, Mel Gibson got arrested for DUI and went on a crazed anti-Jewish rant:
The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"
Sullivan has several posts on it. Mel Gibson has confirmed and apologized for the incident. He also retracted the things he said.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Iraq: the forgotten war

Glen Greenwald has a good article (his posts are long and detailed enough that the word "article" is most appropriate) about how Iraq is already off the radar screen, despite the fact that we have over 100,000 troops there and despite the fact that this administration has been hyping it as the central front in the war on terror for so long. Now that it's going to hell, nobody wants to talk about it. Especially Joe "I'm so prinicipled and have such a muscular foreign policy" Lieberman.

NY Times to endorse Lamont in CT Senate race

DailyKos has it on the front page. I think this is good for the Lamont campaign, as Lieberman has been getting a lot of "establishment" endorsements recently. This might counter some of the Lieberman spin that Lamont is from way out in left-field (which is ridiculous of course: Lamont is a lot more in sync with CT voters on many important issues). But ultimately, I think the CT primary race will be more determined by get-out-the-vote operations and Lieberman's pro-war and pro-Bush stances than by the parade of folks and publications coming in and giving endorsements (whether they be Bill Clinton, Kos, or the NYT. Or Internal Monologue, for that matter).

If you know Dem folks in CT, I urge you to urge them to vote for Lamont. Otherwise, you can donate here.

Bush is a war criminal: Washington Post has a story

It's not just Sullivan and me spreading the meme. The Washington Post has this story about how the Bush administration is trying to get congress to pass a law to retroactively shield itself from violations it might have made.
An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

I don't know a lot about the legal ins and outs of this, but it seems to me that if someone violated the Geneva conventions (and the Supreme Court recently ruled that they apply), they are guilty of war crimes whether or not they violated any particular US law. But the fact that there is US law criminalizing violations of the Geneva conventions should make prosecution in US courts easier.

I think torturers should be punished. And prosecuting Bush might have the additional benefit of allowing someone else to take over, or rather take up the job of actually running this country.

Female Genital Mutilation in Britain

With immigration, come cultural practices that are abhorrent to us (or at least to me). Feministing links to this Reuters article. I don't know if this is happening in the United States, but if the cultures that practice it have people immigrating here, then I imagine it must be.

Bush-Blair press conference

I'm suffering a bit of incredulity burnout here, but I'll try to blog this a bit. Digby has a post on it. Taylor Marsh mentions it here and here. Think Progress has video of some of it. I guess the the wackiest thing in the transcript that digby posts is this:
For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.

And so they respond. They've always been violent.

You know, I hear this amazing kind of editorial thought that says, all of a sudden, Hezbollah's become violent because we're promoting democracy. They have been violent for a long period of time. Or Hamas?

One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.
[emphasis added] Uh, last time I checked "those militants" (Hamas) won the Palestinian elections. I think for Bush, "democracy" means "being like us". He just can't imagine a democratically elected government hostile to Israel or the United States. So he gets really confused when the democratically elected governments (Hamas, Iraq) are unfriendly to Israel. He doesn't understand that the more democratic the Middle East becomes, the more unfriendly it will be to Israel and the United States, at least in the intermediate term. It's going to take an enormous amount of bridge-building before "people power" in much of the Middle East is pro-US. And of course right now, bridges are being blown up rather than built.

I have to echo Sullivan's dismay here, even though I don't share his hawkish stance:
But he is so out of his depth - rhetorically, strategically, politically, intellectually - that it is hard to have much confidence in his leadership. This is one reason why I couldn't endorse him for a second term. He is an incompetent. He is too incompetent to lead the West at this time. He is simply without the skills to navigate the very treacherous waters we are all now in. He is being outmaneuvered at every turn by wily enemies who are becoming more dangerous and emboldened by the day.

Bush, in a word, is overwhelmed. He has no idea what to do except return to the catechism of freedom versus terror, like an ideological security blanket. Of course that it what this is about. The trouble is: freedom is being defended by the incompetent and the clueless. In Bush's blank, bewildered eyes, you see the image of someone who is finally beginning to see reality. And it's something with which he simply cannot cope. Our enemies, moreover, see the weakness in the president and they are ruthlessly exploiting it. And we have more than two years left to survive.

The latest from Maniak on Hezbollah hardware

My super-secret expert Internal Monologue-exclusive source chimes in:
Hezbollah's new addition to the arsenal: the "Khaibar-1". They are just renaming these missiles as they go, I think, since that designation doesn't match any Iranian ones. This particular missile was used against Afula, and they're calling this the furthest that missiles have reached into Israel, so I'm guessing it was fired from near the coast in Lebanon. The range and profile seems to indicate this is a Fajr-5, but the warhead was extremely light for an off-the-shelf Iranian Fajr-5. My guess is that they might be intentionally replacing the warheads with lighter ones to attempt to increase the range. A Fajr-5 could just barely reach Tel Aviv without modification. This may have been a combat testing of the modification that they are making to the missiles in preparation for an all-out strike on Tel Aviv. This would be consistent with the verbal threats from Hezbollah that they are beginning an "entirely new phase".
An "all-out strike on Tel Aviv": is this Maniak going overboard with doom and gloom? Is it possible to be too pessimistic about the Israel-Hezbollah war? Such an escalation would be a very bad thing. What would Israel unleash in response? I would think Hezbollah would want to emphasize the ground war in Lebanon for propaganda purposes: fighting mano-a-mano with Israel's best, etc. If it becomes a contest of who can rain down more firepower on who, I think Israel could win that game. But I have to keep in mind how cool it is to kill Israeli civilians in that part of the world. And of course Hezbollah "wins" both when it gets hit (and causes others to get hit) by Israel and when it manages to kill Israelis. If you're willing to die, I guess it's easy to spin anything into a victory.

Of course, I think the United States should throw its full weight behind putting a stop to this. It's not like this conflict is actually going to resolve anything. I bet when Israel figures out how to declare some kind of victory and stops its invasion and bombardment, Hezbollah will still be there. They will just hate each other more, and a lot of people will have died. I guess that's the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic scenario doesn't seem to have found a bottom yet. Any guesses? US nukes Tehran? The sad nightmare is that there are many parties who are pushing towards that scenario, rather than away from it.

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh posted on this and called it a Fajr-5 at 3:03 pm. If only I had posted faster.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Colbert in top form...

...and his guest can play the game, too. Here he's interviewing Eleanor Holmes Norton, the representative from Washington D.C. (HT: Sullivan)

YouTube is awesome. Let's enjoy it before the lawyers shut it down and we have to pay a dollar for each video clip.

Some commenters on other sites say that she comes across as clueless, but I disagree. She does seem a bit strange, but she's not afraid to dish it out.

Sledgehammer Symbolism

Slacktivist, in is ongoing scathing critique of the "Left Behind" novels, offers up a cautionary tale to writers who use "meaningful" names for characters in their fiction:

Once you've carefully chosen a Meaningful Name, you may begin to worry that readers will miss it. Such worry can lead you to think you need to underscore and italicize your Meaningful Name to make sure that readers recognize and appreciate it. No good can come of this. Give in to such worries and soon you'll be writing things like:

Shepherd thought of her name, Grace, and it seemed more appropriate than ever. She had come into his life unbidden and undeserved ...
He then invited readers to share examples of this phenomenon. Here is mine:

OK, the most flagrant example of this I can think of is in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown". The very title is an example of the phenomenon. But not the most egregious. You see, Young Goodman Brown has a wife named Fatih. This allows the protagonist to exclaim such elephantine double-entendres as:

“With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!”

“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment.

“But, where is Faith?” thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his heart, he trembled.

“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband. “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!”

When we read this in American Literature class, my friends invented the term "sledgehammer symbolism" to describe it. [I can't remember if it was Grishnash or Mad Latinist/Justin who came up with this.]

The character "Mr. Knightley" in Austen's Emma is another example that comes to mind. But I think Hawthorne takes the cake.

The Fortune Five Billion

Grishnash posted a link to this in his comment to another post, but I felt it should be front-paged because it's so interesting. You enter your income, and it returns with an estimate of your "richness rank"relative to everyone else in the world! What fun! Be sure to select the proper currency; it defaults to Pound Sterling (it's a British site). It's income-based, so I don't know how you'd measure holdings like houses, retirement funds, and investment portfolios.

I'm the ?????? richest person on earth!

Discover how rich you are! >>

Relative to the whole world, I bet my readers are wealthier than they think.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

McCain: "Mmm, this Kool-Aid tastes good!"

Poor Sullivan, longing for a conservative hero to save his ideology and the Republican party. But McCain, "one of our last best hopes for the next presidency", just recently said this:
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Well, we’ve got a conflict going on in Iraq where the United States is fighting and doing everything that they can to help democracy evolve there. The Prime Minister of Iraq and others have condemned Hezbollah and say they do not support them.
[emphasis added] Oh dear. Not only is this false, it doesn't even make one lick of sense. Why would the Prime Minister of Iraq (a Shiite who is backed by Shiites) condemn Hezbollah (who are also Shiites, and are (as we are constantly reminded) backed by Iranian Shiites) for fighting against Israel? Fighting Israel is how you make yourself popular in that neck of the woods. The only reason Maliki would condemn Hezbollah is because we pressured him to do it, and then he'd loose all credibility with the Shiite militias who back him up. When forced to choose between pleasing us and pleasing the Badr brigades, Maliki (wisely for him, in my opinion) chose the latter.

What is completely mind-blowing is why anyone in this country (and along with digby I must include some Democrats here) would expect him to do anything else. Anyone who expected Iraq to be both democratic and supportive of this administration's policy towards Israel should definitely join the Drug Policy Alliance, because they must be smokin' some seriously far-out shit.

One wonders whether McCain is truly this deluded, or whether he thinks he just has to act this way to become the Republican nominee for president in 2008. Where is a conservative to turn these days? You conservatives rode the delusional beast to power (or what you thought was power, but turned out to just be Bush and neocon insanity), and now you find you must either bow down to this beast, or become...a liberal!

Shooting ourselves in the foot with prejudice

You hear these stories all the time. This one's from Hullabaloo:
The Iraq war's forgotten, and in Iran the official language is Persian so this guy's totally expendable:
A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.
This is sheer stupidity that weakens our nation.

"Drug War" sabotages Afghanistan war

By the way, our failing "War on Drugs" contributes to our failing war in Afghanistan. Here's a British article explaining how poppy eradication incites violence against British troops and turns the local population against the West:
"We`re pouring gas on the flames of the violence with this eradication campaign. By alienating the locals we`re playing into a sophisticated political plan on the part of al-Qaida and the Taliban to destabilise southern Afghanistan. The political naivety of the international community in doing this is mind-boggling," the worker said.
A similar article about Canada can be found here. Robert D. Kaplan writes about the effect America's domestic drug policies in this article:
While government officials from Kabul show up in rural areas for regular visits, the Taliban are setting up permanent presences in them. They are also importing radical, Pakistan-trained clerics to preach against the Kabul authorities. While officials from the capital too often speak in platitudes, the Taliban make concrete offers to protect poppy fields from eradication.

The drug trade is a particular problem because the United States, given its domestic policies, must take a stand against it and the government in Kabul, needing to maintain an upright image with international donors, must follow suit. Thus, the Taliban is free to use our morality against both.

The Bush administration doesn't need any help failing in the Middle East. But our stupid "War on Drugs" is lending a hand anyway. Our drug criminalization policies are long overdue for a major overhaul. The people who benefit most from them are the prison industry and the drug dealers. The rest of us just have to pay taxes for the prisons and deal with violence and criminality that our policies encourage. To say nothing of the millions incarcerated for non-violent drug offences, and the damage that does to lives, families, the economy, etc. The "War on Drugs" is the modern equivalent of prohibition, and we've got to find a better way of dealing with the addiction, abuse, and harms that drugs can casue.

(Once again, I refer my readers to the Drug Policy Alliance.)

Waiting to Get Blown Up

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor University. "You lose a couple friends and it gets hard."
That's a quote from this Washington Post article. (HT: Sullivan) It paints a very bleak picture, and depicts morale of US forces as pretty low. (Of course, this wasn't a scientific survey, so usual caveats about reporting bias apply.) This other quote caught my eye:
"At this point, it seems like the war on drugs in America," added Spec. David Fulcher, 22, a medic from Lynchburg, Va., who sat alongside Steffey. "It's like this never-ending battle, like, we find one IED, if we do find it before it hits us, so what? You know it's just like if the cops make a big bust, next week the next higher-up puts more back out there."
I'm glad the soldier sees the absurdity and futility of the ridiculous "War on Drugs", and I'm sad (but not surprised) that he discovers the same futility in what we're doing in Iraq.

You know wingnut hatemongers are desperate when...

...they accuse Bill Clinton of...get ready for this, it's really good. Pause for a moment and think of the Bill Clinton smear least likely to stick and maybe you'll come up with it...OK, here it is:

...being gay.

(HT: Sullivan) Yes, it's true. Ann Coulter claims Bill Clinton has latent homosexual tendencies:

DEUTSCH: OK, say it on air.

Ms. COULTER: I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality.

DEUTSCH: OK, I think you need to say that again. That Bill Clinton, you think on some level, has — is a latent homosexual, is that what you’re saying?

Ms. COULTER: Yeah. I mean, not sort of just completely anonymous — I don’t know if you read the Starr report, the rest of us were glued to it, I have many passages memorized. No, there was more plot and dialogue in a porno movie.
Poor woman. I guess she had to shift to something other than bashing 9/11 widows. I do feel bad about linking to her words, because I know she thrives on attention from the ridiculous crap she says. But this one reeks of such sheer desperation that I felt I couldn't pass it up. Bill Clinton gay? There's been a huge industry of Bill Clinton hatred in this country for quite some time, but I've never heard anyone come up with that one before. And to think this woman is still invited to be on "serious" talk shows.

This is funny

(Click it to enlarge. It's today's Doonesbury strip from Slate.) But is it just another example of how "Their reality has lapped our satire"?

You're not allowed to kill civilians

Slacktivist states the obvious. But the obvious seems beyond the grasp of quite a few these days.

God kills innocent people to stop gay parade

Check out this post from Journal of Applied Misanthropology:
Just ponder this for a moment -- Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Savior, the Lamb of God, the Cosmic Muffin -- is willing to use a devastating hurricane and a brutal war to prevent homosexuals from peacefully marching. With all the things in the world which might require divine intervention, that's what He chooses to spend His time doing.

Now, I don't believe this. (I don't believe in God, for one thing) And I'd like to think most self-proclaimed Christians don't believe this, either. But these people do. And then they wonder why people "turn away" from God. Maybe because if God is so incredibly hateful and petty and vicious, he's not remotely worthy of being worshipped?
Amen, brother!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel shelled UN observers for HOURS?

Why would they do this? (The Guardian has the story.) I just don't get it. Is there something Israel has to gain from attacking this post? Could they really have been attacking it for hours by mistake? Here's the Guardian (HT: Marsh):

"I spoke to Mr Olmert and he definitely believes it was a mistake and has expressed his deep sorrow, " Mr Annan told a press conference in Rome. "But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there."

The four monitors came from Austria, Canada, China and Finland. Tonight, European Union and Chinese officials condemned the attack as "unacceptable" and the Irish government filed an official complaint to Israel after its senior UN peacekeeper made half a dozen warning calls over the bombings.

Jane Lute, the assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, told the UN security council that the base came under close Israeli fire 21 times - including 12 hits within 100 metres and four direct hits - from 1.20pm until contact was lost with the four peacekeepers inside at 7.17pm.

Rumsfeld in a bubble

Sullivan (who has been calling for Rumsfeld's firing for some time now) posts this little snippet from Rumsfeld's recent "press availability":
Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.

I can just picture Rumsfeld during the American Civil War: "Well, there was a lot of violence at Antietam today, and in some other areas, and yet in many states there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing." I mean, couldn't this be said about any war, that the violence is concentrated in a few areas? "Well, there was a lot of violence on the beaches of Normandy today, and on the Eastern Front, but to call it a World War is ridiculous, because many regions of the globe are relatively calm."

So I guess its not a civil war unless everyone is killing everyone else everywhere at once. What's even scarier than his ridiculous definition of a civil war is his cavalier attitude to whether it is a civil war or not. You'd think this would be a matter of grave concern to the Secretary of Defense. But he brushes it off as if it's an academic debate about some obscure term nobody feels that strongly about.

UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review Daily picks up my take on Rumsfeld and is most complimentary.

Another Missile tip from Maniak

A quick tip from my missle expert, Maniak:
Olmert now says Israel is looking to clear only a 2-km DMZ in Lebanon to protect the border. This is useless against missile attacks of the kind that have been ongoing, and represents a serious setback...
Israel's actions are starting to look less and less strategically coherent and more like desperate vengeful thrashing. I always had an image of the Israeli military as hard-headed and realistic. But perhaps political considerations and emotional outrage are clouding that. Or maybe I just had an unrealistic picture in my mind.

WTF? Israel hits UN observers in Lebanon?

First of all, who at the AP put this headline:

Hezbollah guerrillas battle Israeli troops

over this content:

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Hezbollah guerrillas exchanged heavy fire with Israeli troops attempting to capture a southern Lebanese town on Wednesday, causing several Israeli casualties. The fighting came a day after an Israeli airstrike killed at least three U.N. observers in a border outpost. In a phone call to U.N. Secretary GeneralKofi Annan, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "deep regret" Wednesday over the deaths of the peacekeepers in the airstrike, which Annan had called "apparently deliberate."

Olmert said the peacekeepers were killed mistakenly and expressed dismay over Annan's accusation, according to a statement released by his office. The prime minister promised a thorough investigation and said the results would be presented to Annan.

Wouldn't something like "Israel kills 3 U.N. obervers in disputed incident" be more appropriate? (ABC news headlines the incident with "UN Peacekeepers killed in Israeli air strike") Apparently, when Marsh saw the story, the headline read: "Israel widens control of southern Lebanon", which is even stranger.

This reminds me of the time the US bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The whole situation is completely FUBAR. (See this Billmon post.)

Update (also from Billmon):
Update 8:05 PM ET: Kofi: "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked U.N. post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire."
This is completely wack if true. It's also completely wack if Kofi is saying it but it's not true.

Digby on debt

I agree with digby that this is an issue that could create a lot of energy for any candidate (Dem or Repub) willing to take on the credit card industry:
I've long felt that this was one of the most potent political issues that nobody ever talks about. It was the main reason why I thought those Democrats who supported the Bankruptcy Bill were prostituting themselves so cheaply when you considered the stakes for ordinary people --- and the political bounty for those who have the imagination and the will to take it on:
Slacktivist had a great post on this subject a while back which I linked to from here. This is a big issue that has pocketbook resonance for a huge number of people. I bet we all know someone who has had trouble with debt, if we haven't ourselves. I think it's the sort of bread and butter thing that could make a difference in an election. Of course, extremely wealthy interests are pushing from the opposite side. But I bet a skillful campaign could really make the credit card companies out to be scummy bad guys who were just given a big handout with the recent Bankruptcy Bill. I think it wouldn't be too hard to paint those in the pay of the credit industry as preadators on the hard working folk of America (because it's largely true).

"Run, run for your political lives..."

...away from Bush, if you want to get elected. The Republican Senate candidate from Maryland would rather Bush not campaign for him (HT: Sullivan, as usual):
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's Senate campaign acknowledged yesterday that he was the anonymous candidate quoted by a Washington Post political reporter as saying that being a Republican was like wearing a "scarlet letter" and that he did not want President Bush to campaign for him this fall.


Asked whether he would invite Bush to campaign for him, he replied, considering Bush's low approval rating in Maryland, "to be honest with you, probably not."
Of course, this is Maryland, which apparently enjoys a 2 to 1 Democratic advantage in registered voters. So its not too surprising. Still, it's fun to see Bush treated as radioactive and the label "Republican" treated like a stigma by a Republican, no less. Implosion and self-destruction for the GOP And none too soon. I hope something recognizably American emerges from the ashes. Wouldn't it be fun to argue with someone about a policy issue, instead of wondering what looney alternate universe they're operating in? I'm sick and tired of banging my head against Republican denial of reality (e.g. "Iraq is going well").

Happy Birthday Sarah!

I'd like to take a brief break from the usual Internal Monologue fare to wish my lovely wife a very happy birthday! We also recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Sarah, I love you very much and look forward to many more happy anniversaries and birthdays with you.

[We now return to Internal Monologue's regular programming. By the way, I've just decided that Internal Monologue merits italics, just like The New York Times and the titles of books. I'm real publication, too, gosh darn it.]

An e-mail to Sullivan

I sent a letter to Sullivan in reaction to this post (a reader annoyed that Markos is meddling in the CT senate race):

Is your reader looking at the same CT polls I am? This is the latest Rassmussen poll has Lamont and Lieberman in a dead heat in the three-way contest, with the Republican lagging far behind. Your reader seems to be referring to this Quinnipiac poll, which does have Lieberman winning a 3-way with 51% (27 percent for Lamont and 9 percent for Schlesinger). The Quinnipiac poll was from July 13-18. The Rassmussen poll was July 20th. I don't know which polling firm is more reliable, or which polls have favored which candidate. But the data no longer seem to support your reader's contention that Lieberman "is crushing Lamont and the GOP candidate in a 3-way general election". Things are shifting rapidly in CT, and the momentum I've seen has all been in favor of Lamont.
It's funny the double thinking about Markos and the lefty blogs: establishment Dems and conservatives used to mock him for being so ineffectual. I remember vividly all those people quoting DailyKos' losing record with glee. Now they (or your reader, at any rate) are attacking him for "trying to play God in our elections." Wow. These folks have elevated Kos from powerless loser to aspiring deity in under two years. Is this just more evidence that Liberals are more powerful than God? I find such accusations of omnipotence highly amusing. If we were that powerful, maybe we could reign in the Bush administration a bit.
To be fair, I think we lefty bloggers have similar mixed feelings about being in the spotlight: on the one hand we want to celebrate and take pride in our new found "powers". On the other hand we don't want to be seen as meddlers. We want to emphasize that it's the Connecticut Democrats who will do the voting. But worrying about this seems a bit ridiculous to me: lots of local races attract outside attention from various interest groups. If the Christian Coalition or Dick Cheney support a local candidate, is that "trying to play God"? Are the out-of-state supporters of Chaffee's primary challenger playing God? Is Bill Clinton playing God, too, by campaigning for Lieberman? I didn't know it was so easy to participate in godhood! Apparently all you have to do is blog about some race in another state. And to think those poor Romans thought divinity required a vote of the Senate! Fools, immortality is for everyone: just give $10 to Lamont.
I can see how Markos' support of Lieberman's opponent would annoy your reader. But to accuse Markos or anyone else outside of CT of "trying to play God" for expressing an opinion or making a contribution to a CT race is just silly. That's not how Senate races work in this country. Some Senators are national figures, so it only makes sense that they would attract national interest, both for and against. So unless your reader wants to ban both the RSCC and the DSCC, outside meddling is just something one must learn to live with.

Chronicling the fiasco

At this point, all it seems I can do is relate one ominous, sad development after another. The prime minister of Iraq, Maliki, is being torn between his need to placate the US government (which wants to let Israel continue to attack Lebanon) and placate his own Shiite constituency (which is anti-Israel). This NYT article explains:

WASHINGTON, July 25 — President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, embraced the same vision of an emerging democratic Iraq today, but they made it clear they still have deep differences over Israel’s campaign in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

Mr. Bush praised the courage of the Iraqi people, who he said were making “enormous sacrifices” to secure their own freedom. And Mr. Maliki said he and the president discussed how to build “a democratic, united, flourishing Iraq.” The leaders also announced a plan to significantly bolster American troop strength in Baghdad to help quell continuing violence in the city.
I guess as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand up more. The US has always propped up people in the Middle East, who then turn around and do things against US interests. But the violence with which we're doing the propping, and the quickness with which alliances are shifting under our feet seem to both be increasing.

And it looks like Muqtada al-Sadr's Iraqi Shi'ite militia, the Mahdi Army, might be joining in on Hezbollah's side. Sullivan links to a New Republic blog post (yes, I still link to them even though they think I'm a "blogofascist" for supporting Lamont and calling people "wankers") which quotes The Washington Times:
A senior member of Muqtada al-Sadr's Iraqi Shi'ite militia, the Mahdi Army, says the group is forming a squadron of up to 1,500 elite fighters to go to Lebanon.

The plan reflects the potential of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah to strengthen radical elements in Iraq and neighboring countries and to draw other regional players into the Lebanon conflict.

"We are choosing the men right now," said Abu Mujtaba, who works in the loosely organized following of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. "We are preparing the right men for the job."
If they're only sending 1,500, there should still be plenty left over to fight the Sunnis, and us if they decide we're too cozy with Israel or their Sunni foes.

Many are declaring a unified Iraq a lost cause. Galbraith had an Op-Ed in todays times (can't link of course, but Sullivan and one of his readers opine on it) saying that partition is the only way to go. Sullivan posts an email from a soldier in Iraq which says Baghdad is completely out of control.

There's a lot out there, none of it good. I wonder if Lieberman will change his mind that invading Iraq was a good idea.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan

Ain't it great what the folks we back in the Middle East do? Well, no, it isn't. I just got this via femisting (I love their logo):

AFGHANISTAN'S notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was set up by the Taliban to enforce bans on women doing anything from working to wearing nail varnish or laughing out loud, is to be recreated by the Government in Kabul.

The decision has provoked an outcry among women and human rights activists who fear a return to the days when religious police patrolled the streets, beating or arresting any woman who was not properly covered by a burka or accompanied by a male relative.

Wait a sec, I thought we invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and install someone just slightly more reasonable. And I thought the Taliban resurgence there was coming from the Taliban (who operate out of Pakistan, our "stalwart ally"), but now it seems it's coming from Kabul, too.

Well, this is bad news for the women of Afghanistan, that's for sure. Maybe we should stick around someplace long enough to actually effect some positive change before we go blundering off somewhere else. Or maybe we should simply not invade other countries so easily.

Money realities: when $500,000 a year is not enough

Slacktivist has a great post that illustrates the widely varying views people have on a fundamental question: How much money is enough?

Here we have a group of people convinced that $500,000 a year is "not enough to live on." They would not understand the grateful joy of my fortunate colleagues in the press room. They wouldn't consider $95,000 a year as "striking it rich," but as "striking it poor."

I don't begrudge those millionaires their millions any more than I begrudge the lucky guys in the pressroom their tens of thousands. The trouble comes when these extraordinary people cease to realize they're extraordinary -- when elites fail to realize that they are elites.

I do think Americans live in a warped reality when it comes to economic class issues. Probably as warped as the female body image world: I remember in the movie Devil Wears Prada, the main character was considered fat because she wore a size 6 dress (she's down to a size 4 by the end, and this is considered a great accomplishment). And no one in the movie commented on how absurd this was. According to this article, the average (presumably American) woman wears a size 11-14 dress. Did the characters in the movie know this? Surely they did, working in the fashion industry?

But is body image distortion universe in which size 6 is fat any crazier than thinking you can't live on $95,000 a year? Or $500,000 a year? (Average American income for household of 4: 44,389, according to Slacktivist).

Of course, there are people who would consider a $45,000 a year wildly extravagant, too. It's not bad that people have different lifestyles, with wildly differing costs. But it is bad that people don't know when they are exceptional and mistake their own, rarified reality for what the country, or the world as a whole, is experiencing. It's OK if you want to spend more than $500,000 a year, but you should have some consciousness that many Americans won't spend that much in 10 years, and many people around the world will never see that kind of money.

It's OK to be rich, but please, don't be oblivious and insensitive. If you're bringing in $200,000 a year, it positively grates on me to hear you call yourself "middle class". You may be in the "middle" of your peer group, but look at some census data before you declare yourself the "middle" of the country. Of course, you may not feel rich, because of the obligations on your money. $200,000 a year can disappear darn quick, I bet. It doesn't let you live like Michael Jackson, certainly. It probably won't even let you live the lifestyle of "middle class" people depicted on TV, because of the "lifestyle inflation" most shows seem to indulge in. So you may feel like you're middle class, even though you're in a very high income percentile.

I guess I'm saying don't rely on your "gut" to figure out where you are in the economic hierarchy, because our gut feelings on these matters are often out of sync with reality. Not everyone gets to call themselves middle class.

If it's a "principle", you can't object!

Atrios makes a great point about Joe Lieberman and his "principles":
One thing that's been bugging me about Lieberman is that his knee-jerk retort to criticism on the Iraq war has been that he should be applauded because he's taken that stand on principle. At this point I'm not even sure what his stand is, or what principle motivates it, but nonetheless it's really quite bizarre. It's as if all he has to do is play the "principle" card and he's immune from criticism. I picture Joe as Dr. Evil trying to shut up his son, but instead of saying "shhh" he's saying "principle!"
This reminds me of the whole "we must respect other people's religious beliefs" canard that I've been doing my best to demolish. We should respect other people's right to believe and worship as they see fit. But that doesn't mean what they believe and how they worship should not be subject to criticism and ridicule. Similary, I respect the right of Lieberman to believe what he thinks he should about the Iraq occupation and the Bush administration. But that doesn't mean I don't think he should be voted out of office for having those beliefs.

People are always saying they want campaigns to be more about issues, and less about personality. But now we have Lieberman saying that he should be a Democratic senator from CT because he's a nice, principled guy, even though he disagrees with Dem CT voters on a huge issue: Iraq (not to mention Supreme Court nominations, emergency contraception, and a history undercutting Democrats and providing political cover for Republicans).

Sullivan recommends "Inconvenient Truth"

Sullivan recommends Gore's movie. He has some objections, though. He thinks Gore should have pushed for an increased gas tax. While I like the incentives such a tax would set up (lower consumption, make alternative energy sources more profitable), I don't like the fact that it would probably be a very regressive tax (i.e. hitting the poor proportionally harder than the rich). If the regressiveness of a gas tax could be offset by packaging it with other changes in the tax code, I'd be more enthusiastic about it.

My objections to the movie were more triggered by the Al Gore "bio-porn" about growing up on a farm (wasn't his father a Senator, too?), about not farming tobacco after a relative died of lung cancer, etc. I thought those parts were akward and phony, and did nothing to support the central thesis of the movie. They felt like political puff pieces, and I felt their presence undermined the strength of the arguments a bit. Al Gore is at his best when he's not being a politician.

US Foreign Policy taking another Orwellian swerve

I have two rival hypotheses to explain the behavior of the Bush administration in the foreign policy area. The first is that it is run by a bunch of war-mongering radical neocons who are supported by the usual set of Bush cronies that profit from their actions: Halliburton, oil companies, defense contractors, etc. The second is even scarier: there is in fact no foreign policy at all. Various groups jockey for power (Pentagon, State Department, neoconservatives, rapture-ready funamentalists, the "let Israel do anything it wants to" lobby) but all are desperately afraid of giving bad news to Bush and thus falling out of favor. Bush isn't really able to decide who's right among them, so his speechwriters use vague phrases and everyone tries to figure out what the policy is from those, and from our actions.

The latest swerve in the road seems to be that the US is siding with Sunnis against Shiites. Digby links to Billmon who is stunned by the following quote in the Telegraph:
White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shia terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.
[emphasis added] OK, if the Sunnis are now the good guys and the Shiites are the bad guys, why exactly did we depose Saddam in Iraq, who was probably the biggest regional counterweight to Shiite extremism in the area? (Yes, we was a murderous tyrant, too. But since when has that prevented us from playing realpolitik with anyone?) And who ended up replacing Saddam? Shiites who seem awfully friendly with big, bad Iran (and the rhetoric coming from Iran's president is completely unhinged and apocolyptic, even by the feverish standards of the region). Oh, and they seem to like using death squads, too.

The Bush administration's bumbling search for "the guys with white hats" in the Middle East doesn't end. Right now they seem to think that Israel and various "moderate" Sunni Arab regimes are the key to stability. Condi is heading over there to enlist them in the cause:
"She's not going to come home with a ceasefire but stronger ties to the Arab world," said a senior official. "It's going to allow us to say that America isn't going to put up with this and we have Arab friends that are against you terrorists. What we want is our Arab allies standing against [Shia] Hezbollah and against Iran, since there is no one who doesn't think Iran is behind this. We're going to say to Hezbollah and the terrorist groups, 'This will not stand.'
Hmm. So Condi is going to the Middle East to get stronger ties to the Arab world, while at the same time, the US is supporting Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilian infrastructure. Somehow, I'm not convinced that's going to work. Oh, and what happened to all that "promoting democracy" rhetoric? Don't hear much about it now that those we're trying to enlist (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria) are all dictatorships and monarchies. So all that talk about "democracy", never that credible to begin with, is now revealed to be meaningless hot air.

This stuff is down-the-rabbit-hole, Kool-Aid Big-Gulp, completely batshit Orwell level insanity.

Here's one more bit of surrealism (HT: Atrios): Iraq is already being called "The Forgotten War" by CNN here. What does that make Afghanistan? The "other forgotten war"?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The New York (behind the) Times

I like the New York Times. I read it just about every day. But there are some annoying things about it. Like the fact that you can't link to their columnists because they're hidden behind a TimesSelect subscription wall.

In today's (Sunday's) Times, there is an Op-Ed by Nicholas Sambanis whose headline reads, "It's Official: There Is Now a Civil War in Iraq". Now, my loyal readers know that I proclaimed the same thing in the early hours of 7/21/06. Wouldn't it be interesting to compare and contrast our opinions? I'd love to give you a link, but alas, the "Gray Lady" has opted out of the conversation. I also just want to point out that the NYT wants you to pay for an opinion that you could have gotten for free right here at least a day or so earlier (I don't know when Sunday columns go live).

Of course, Mr. Sambanis' article has a lot more on the history of civil wars, what makes them end or not end, and what might contribute to peace afterwards. I was just quoting one statistic and rendering a verdict. I think that's illustrative of the difference between blogs and the New York Times: The people whose writing gets in The Times have more credentials, bigger research budgets, and more experience. But things happen slower there, and you can't post a comment on the Op-Ed page calling David Brooks a deluded Republican shill for supporting the administration's Middle East policy. Whereas on a proper blog (i.e. one with comments, like this one) you can. We can respond quickly, and you can easily call us on our shit (if you can read the spam filter image and type the characters in, that is). And we get to use more naughty words.

Bottom line: The Times is useful. Blogs are cool.

Of course, neither what I say nor what the NYT Op-Ed page says matters much unless someone in a position to do something about things actually reads these things and is persuaded.

Remember those Dove ads featuring "real women" having curves?

Those ads always bugged the shit out of me. I remember when the BART stations were full of them. First of all, there's just the akwardness of seeing all these women standing around in their underwear. Normally, models in ads are "high gloss" enough they don't strike me as really real people. But these women did, which I guess was the whole point of the campaign. But if the women are in fact so damn real, what the fuck are they doing standing around a BART station in their undies? That's not exactly real.

And so many people were falling all over themselves praising Dove for using "real people" that they overlooked the fact that the product they were selling was A, designed to cater to the same insecurities that all other cosmetic products cater to, and B, pure crap that did not actually do what it purported to do. (A topical cream that can remove cellulite? Anything that could do that, I assure you you don't want to be smearing it on your body.)

What brings this up? Apparently, some NOW conference bestowed an award on the ad agency that did these ads. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon reports on this, and seems to share my dismay:
We ["the row of young feminists with their laptops open"] were all a little miffed that NOW would give marketers an award for helping women’s self-esteem when they’re selling cellulite cream, which both implies that there’s something irredeemably foul about having your skin actually attached to the fatty tissue underneath, and has the added benefit of being pure snake oil. It doesn’t work, people. Spend your money on something else.

If this was your view of Iraq...

...maybe you'd think we're about to turn a corner in a Friedman or two, too. Take a look at this. It's the July 22 issue of "The Advisor", a publication of the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I). (Hat tip: Patrick Lang.) Boy does it paint a rosy picture. Check out these headlines:

Iraqi government takes control of first province

Iraqi Joint Staff College holds first graduation

Coalition forces transition “Courage” to Iraqi control

Police view new vehicles as symbols of progress

Now I know why conservatives complain that the New York Times isn't reporting the good news. It's like the two publications are talking about completely different places.

Bush and authoritarianism

Glenn Greenwald talks about John Dean's new book Conservatives without Conscience. I haven't read it, but according to Greenwald, Dean's basic argument seems to be that "conservativism" has mutated into "authoritarianism". That seems to fit what I see from the outside: the abandonment of many conservative principles, the eagerness for war, the demonization of dissent, etc. The fact that John Dean was one of Nixon's minions involved in the Watergate scandal is rather ironic. If former Nixon folks are saying Bush is too authoritarian, I think that probably says something pretty scary about how much Kool-Aid this administration is willing to drink.

(I bet most of my readers know that the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" means believing blindly in a stupid or insane idea, and know where it comes from. For those of you who don't, there's an explanation here.)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"McDonald's Rule" broken

The war between Israel and Lebanon has broken the famous "McDonald's Rule": Countries that have McDonald's restaurants don't go to war with each other. This rule was first put forth by Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree as the "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention".

Apparently, Beirtut has a McDonald's (it got bombed in 2003). And McDonald's Israeli subsidiary "operates more than 80 restaurants across Israel." And Israel is certainly at war with Lebanon. I suppose you could argue that Israel is at war with the stateless entitiy Hezbollah, and then argue whether or not Hezbollah has any McDonald's, but when Israel is bombing the Beirut airport and blockading ports, that's war with Lebanon as far as I'm concerned.

So the rule has definitely been broken. Not even Happy Meals can stifle Middle Eastern violence.

Of course, the McDonald's rule has been broken before, as early as 1989 when the United States invaded Panama. So I guess Ronald McDonald isn't perfect at keeping the peace. But I bet his record is pretty good when compared to NATO or the UN. (Of course, NATO and the UN take on tougher jobs.)

Syd Barrett, January 6, 1946 – July 7, 2006

I thought I should take a moment to note the passing of Syd Barrett, founding member of Pink Floyd who soon withdrew from public life following a mental collapse. His career was quite short, but he was enormously influential. Perhaps more influential than he deserves to be given his actual musical output, but back when I played guitar even I learned a few Syd Barrett songs ("Dark Globe" and "Octopus").

His early Pink Floyd songs represent psychedillica at its height, often infused with a fairy-tale child-like sensibility. His later work is often a harrowing illustration of a mind helplessly witnessing the process of its own destruction. Listening to some of the songs on the solo albums is almost indecent. There are also some bootlegs of songs that haven't ever been officially released: "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man" are Pink Floyd songs that the band never released since they were deemed too intimate and realistic a depiction of what was going on in his mind.

I think evey Barrett fan secretly harbored the hope that Syd would make a triumphant return to rock music, maybe with members of Pink Floyd. I certainly harbored this hope. But it wasn't realistic. I think the real secret hope is that we could somehow go back in time and keep Syd Barrett active and creative in rock music throughout the late 60's and 70's. Sort of like the "What if Buddy Holly hadn't died in that plane crash?" speculation. I think this loss of Syd is probably the reason his meager output is so heavily scruitinized. (That and the fact that much of Pink Floyd's later, most well-known music was often about him.) We look for the genius we want him to have been. It's like looking at a few pieces of a shattered vase we never got to see whole, and becasue we are convinced the vase must have been beautiful, we convince ourselves the shards are beautiful, too. But the fact is the shards are very sad, and we honestly can't say what the vase would have been like.

I'll leave you with the lyrics to Dark Globe (from the Syd Barrett archives):

Oh where are you now
pussy willow that smiled on this leaf?
When I was alone you promised the stone from your heart
my head kissed the ground
I was half the way down, treading the sand
please, please, lift a hand
I'm only a person whose armbands beat
on his hands, hang tall
won't you miss me?
Wouldn't you miss me at all?
The poppy birds way
swing twigs coffee brands around
brandish her wand with a feathery tongue
my head kissed the ground
I was half the way down, treading the sand
please, please, please lift the hand
I'm only a person with Eskimo chain
I tattooed my brain all the way...
Won't you miss me?
Wouldn't you miss me at all?

Images of Beirut devastation

Here are some images from the Washington Post. They are panorama views of some of the destruction in Lebanon. (They require a Quicktime plug-in, I think.) (HT: Taylor Marsh)

It's pretty clear to me that the US is not going to seriously try to stop Israel from continuing its campaign, at least for a while. In fact, we're speeding up a delivery of guided bombs to Israel. I bet that's going to win a lot of hearts and minds in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Marsh says: "Holy mother of God, but this has got to be the most fly by night foreign policy strategy in U.S. history, coupled with hints of a longer war." Digby even speculates that Israel was counting on the United States to pressure it into toning down its Lebanon campaign, and now has no way to back down without losing face:
The Israelis should ask themselves if they really want to do George W. Bush's dirty work for him. I continue to suspect they did not expect that the US would give them the green light on this (it is insane, after all) and now they have no face saving way out. America did not do its job and now things are deteriorating beyond anyone's control.
I think the Bush administration is going the exact wrong way on this. I think Bush wants us to get involved in another war just in time for the midterm elections. I hope we can say we "Won't Get Fooled Again".

Looking at things from Israel's point of view, I can understand their frustration in dealing with Hezbollah. If Hezbollah can kidnap soldiers and shoot rockets at Israel, shouldn't Israel be able to retaliate? And if Hezbollah is part of Lebanon (it is part of the government, but is not controlled by the government, a rather odd arrangement, but that's how it is), isn't it normal that Lebanon would suffer as part of the reprisals? I think Israel has every right to go after Hezbollah. I just think the way they're doing it is counter-productive. And I think the United States should distance itself from this fight as much as possible, rather than cheer Israel on as it has been doing. Nobody's wearing white hats here. Certainly not us.

Lamont leads Lieberman, and is tied in 3-way

That headline sounds a bit kinky, doesn't it? Well, via Atrios, Political Wire has the poll from which that headline is derived:
A new Rasmussen Reports poll shows Ned Lamont (D) beating Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in the primary, 51% to 41%.

Here's the stunning finding: In the general election, Lieberman and Lamont are tied with 40% with Alan Schlesinger (R) trailing behind with 13%.
Start taking Lamont seriously MSM, and stop doing those stories about how hurt the nice Mr. Lieberman is. If he's such a wonderful guy, why are so many CT Dems going the other way? They can't all be "blogofascists" like me.

I wonder how much influence blogs really had. Certainly, lefty blogs have championed and fundraised for Lamont, but that alone can't explain Lamont being ahead by ten percentage points. I think the Iraq occupation has a lot to do with it, of course. But I'd be interested to hear the reasons Lamont supporters in CT give for their choice. I think the blogosphere might be less influential in this race than we think we are. But we are growing in numbers and in influence, and the media does seem a bit obsessed and threatened by us lately. That's a good sign.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Iraq civil war: Bush doesn't want to hear about it

Digby has this:
So apparently John "Death Squad" Negroponte has decided that rather than take the risk of information being leaked, the CIA just won't compile National Intelligence Estimates anymore. Ken Silverstein at Harper's blog reports that ever since the last NIE on Iraq was rejected by the Bush administration back in 2004 (for being "too negative") they haven't bothered to write another one.

Apparently, they want to keep the president from having to deal with bad news:
“What do you call the situation in Iraq right now?” asked one person familiar with the situation. “The analysts know that it's a civil war, but there's a feeling at the top that [using that term] will complicate matters.” Negroponte, said another source regarding the potential impact of a pessimistic assessment, “doesn't want the president to have to deal with that.”
I don't know what's scarier: the civil war in Iraq or the fact that the president's cronies are too scared to talk to him about it. Impeach him now, he's too wussy to run this country. A president who can't hear bad news has no business being in office.

Billmon enjoys intra-conservative spat

Billmon has little sympathy for Andrew Sullivan, who is now being attacked by the far-right blogosphere for insufficient devotion to Dear Leader and the The Cause:
Randy Andy still seems to be having trouble figuring out if he's Roy Cohn or Oscar Wilde -- persecutor or persecuted. He's not alone: These days it seems like half of Right Blogistan is busy hurling accusations of betrayal and cowardice at the other half, while that other half is trying hard to ignore the many times it fired those same charges across the DMZ into Left Blogistan.

Well, let me help you out, Andy. To paraphrase Grady, the ghostly caretaker from The Shining: You're Roy Cohn. You've always been Roy Cohn. You may have managed to stuff your slime down your own memory hole, but you can't erase the electronic traces of it, which reveal that you aimed your little Wildean bon mot at Susan Sontag, Nom Chomsky, Michael Moore and Eric Alterman -- none of whom sympathized, immediately or later, with Al Qaeda, except in the diseased tissue of your own shrunken brain.

I am perhaps more sympathetic to Sullivan, but then I wasn't around the blogosphere during his Bush bootlicking days. And he's been admirably outspoken against the use of torture and in favor of gay marriage. And in the present political climate, I'll take as an ally anyone who seems to think that reality should play an important role in political decision making.

UPDATE: Atrios says, "I think I'm a teensy bit more forgiving than Billmon, but only a teensy bit."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lamont leads Lieberman among CT Dems

From Political Wire (hat tip: Atrios):
In the Connecticut U.S. Senate race, Ned Lamont (D) has surged ahead of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and now holds a razor-thin 51% to 47% lead among likely Democratic primary voters, according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

In possible general election matchups:
  • Lieberman defeats Republican challenger Alan Schlesinger 68% to 15%
  • Lamont beats Schlesinger 45% to 22%, with 24% undecided
  • Running as an independent, Lieberman gets 51%, to 27% for Lamont and 9% for Schlesinger.
Remember that "likely voter" models for summer primary elections under unusual circumstances are quite iffy. But certainly Lamont has a great deal of "Nedrenaline" at the moment; his candidacy must be taken seriously. I like that. I think the whole progressive movement should be taken more seriously, and I hope I have been and will continue to be a part of that, however small.

Iraq in full scale civil war

Internal Monologue is officially calling the "sectarian violence" in Iraq a civil war. And I'm not going to use the "low-grade" qualifier that's been bandied about recently. My evidence (hat tip: digby):
BAGHDAD, 20 July (IRIN) - The Iraqi government says it is worried aboutincreasing sectarian violence in the country, following statistics released by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) stating that nearly 6,000 civilians were killed in May and June alone."

Sectarian violence in Iraq is increasing and day after day more bodies are being found countrywide after suffering serious torture," says Lt. Col. Abdel-Kareem Hassan, a senior official in the Ministry of Interior. "The numbers presented by UNAMI has just confirmed this is reality and also increases fear among the local population.
6,000 civilian deaths in 2 months. That's about 700 per week, or 100 per day. If we assume that Iraq is about 1/10th the population of the United States (Iraq: 26,783,383 United States: 298,444,215, so its actually even smaller), that's similar to 1,000 people per day dying in this country. I don't know if there's some official number of deaths per day you have to have a bona fide civil war, but I bet these numbers exceed it.

So Iraq is now in the throes of a civil war. What do we do? I've been an advocate of getting out. Now that the Sunni's want us to stay, maybe there's some grand opportunity to turn things around, at least with that group. But I still doubt it. And if we did get friendly with the Sunnis, then wouldn't that just turn the Shiite majority against us? I guess the best way to describe my attitude would be, "Let's get out, unless someone has some really good idea and can get the Bush administration to take it seriously."

Billmon on Israel's Lebanon strategy

Like many, Billmon is puzzled by what exactly Israel hopes to accomplish in Lebanon, given that its ground incursions there have actually been rather limited:
And yes, I'm sure those Vietnam-style search-and-destroy missions will work every bit as well for the IDF as they have for the U.S. Army in Anbar province. And, given that Hezbollah -- by one estimate -- started the war with roughly 13,000 rockets dispersed across southern Lebanon, and has fired only about 10% of them, a week should give the IDF plenty of time to complete the mission. Definitely.
He floats one possible explanation that is rather frightening:
It may be that the imprecise use of air power in southern Lebanon is designed to send a very precise message to the leadership class in Tehran: This is what could happen to your country if we (that is, the USA and/or Israel) decide to launch a full-scale air attack. We may not know where all your nuclear facilities are, but we know exactly where your bridges, power plants, sewage plants, airports and government office buildings are -- and we won't hesitate to flatten them. Maybe we can't stop you from getting the bomb, just like we can't force Hezbollah to disarm, but we can make you pay a terrible price for it.
The other explanation he offers is that Israel's military establishment consists of "reckless boobs who don't have the slightest idea what they're doing, or even what they're trying to do." While I might believe that of the Bush administration, I have a hard time picturing Israel's goverment in quite such a light.

I'll put forward my own theory: Israel is in Lebanon for similar reasons that the US is in Iraq: public outrage over a brzen attack was redirected by those who already had some kind of agenda. For the US, public rage and fear about 9/11 was manipulated and mischanneled into an Iraq invasion by people who already wanted to invade Iraq. When Hezbollah captured those two soldiers (by the way, by doing that Hezbollah was just askin' for it), perhaps Israeli public opinion shifted in such a way that enabled some faction within the Israeli government to execute a pre-existing desire to attack Lebanon. Or it could just be a simple lashing out. When you get hit (and much of what I've read says that for Israelis, having soldiers captured is a particularly devastating hit) you want to hit back. And often people aren't to particular about who they hit back.

I'll add the usual "of course Israel has the right to defend itself" statement here. Everyone has the right to do that. I just don't see how their bombing campaign in Lebanon is doing their security situation any favors. It hurts Hezbolloah a little, but seems to hurt Lebanon a lot.

Sullivan on stem cell veto controversy

Lots of people in the blogosphere are talking about the ban on federally funded stem cell research. I've already got one post on it. Andrew Sullivan has come out in favor of the federal funds ban. I see his Catholicism coming through in his thinking on this. Needless to say, I desagree with him. He has printed some good e-mail responses to his support of the ban: here, and this one is especially important:
The problem with this ban means that none of the researchers implements funded with federal money can ever be involved/associated with research funded by other means. This includes the lab space, every beaker, piece of paper, pencil, etc.! This is not practical in the slightest. That means that a researcher, say here at UCSF, who wants to tap into the money allocated by the state of California for stem cell research, would have to have a completely different facility whereby NOTHING funded with federal dollars can enter, and that likely includes the researcher himself. In academic medicine this is impossible.