Saturday, August 12, 2006

Helping the poor

What country, according to a new study by the Center for Global Development (CGD), does the most to help the poor?

  • The Netherlands
The CGD's annual Commitment to Development Index, which ranks the world's 21 richest countries in terms of how they "improve lives in developing countries," has Canada and the U.K at #10, the U.S. at #13, and Japan last.

The BBC has the story, and the results, here. The CGD website is here.

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Terrorism and the law

Glenn Greenwald has a must-read post today on how, to quote the title of said post, "legal surveillance, not illegal eavesdropping, stopped the U.K. terrorist attacks":

Bush supporters have been attempting to exploit the U.K. terrorist plot to bolster support for an array of extremist and lawless Bush policies -- from warrantless eavesdropping to torture -- even though there is not a shred of evidence that any of those policies played any role whatsoever, either in the U.S. or England, in impeding this plot.


The important point is that the British were able to stop this plot while complying with the law and obtaining warrants -- and, more importantly, American investigators were able to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists, including those communicating with U.S. persons, within the FISA framework.

Read the whole post. And then go see Digby, Steve Benen, and John Amato.

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Transatlantic terror threat 3

It looks like there may have been some disagreement between the U.S. and the U.K. with respect to this past week's arrest of terror suspects in Britain. From MSNBC:

NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.

A senior British official claims that "an attack was not imminent" and that British authorities wanted to let one of the suspects go ahead with a planned "dry run". This official also suggests "that British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner".

In other words, the disagreement was all about timing: "Analysts say that in recent years, American security officials have become edgier than the British in such cases because of missed opportunities leading up to 9/11."

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The end is near (update 2)

According to The Jerusalem Post, Hezbollah will abide by the expected cease-fire agreement:

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said on Saturday that his organization would abide by the United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire although he was not completely satisfied with its text.

Of course, Hezbollah has been claiming, and will continue to claim, victory. And one suspects that its opposition to Israel's very existence, an issue much broader and deeper than the current conflict, will not be so easily overcome.

But, for now, with peace (if only a temporary one) on the way, Hezbollah's determinaton that it "not be an obstacle to any decision that [the Lebanese government] finds appropriate," as well as its apparent willingness to participate in, and pursue its interests peacefully through, Lebanese politics is a positive sign.

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The end is near (update)

Israel will soon end its offensive in Lebanon, but not all is well on the Israeli homefront:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced a backlash on Friday over a U.N. proposal to end the war in Lebanon, with army officers saying they were held back and right-wing rivals calling for new elections.

The military has "accused Olmert of denying the army a chance to gain more ground militarily to secure a ceasefire that would be more favorable to Israel," and "[l]eading members of the right-wing opposition Likud party called the resolution a victory for Hizbollah".

There may soon be a cease-fire. An international force may soon provide border security. But another war may also be inevitable.

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Chafee is the new Lieberman

Democrats went after Joe Lieberman in Connecticut and now Republicans are targeting Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, as the AP reports here. The effort is being led by the 36,000-strong Club for Growth, which "spent around $1 million to help challenger Tim Walberg unseat first-term Rep. Joe Schwarz in Michigan's Republican primary on Tuesday". In 2004, the Club actively went after Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania -- his opponent was Pat Toomey, the Club's president. In Rhode Island the Club has tapped Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey.

And yet: Lieberman is a moderate in a liberal state. The man who beat him in last Tuesday's Democratic primary, Ned Lamont, is a liberal who should be able to win the general election. One could argue that there should be a more liberal Democratic senator than Lieberman in a state like Connecticut. But Chafee is a moderate Republican in a liberal state. A conservative candidate will likely not be able to win the general election. Specter at least is a moderate in a moderate state. Given that the other senator from Pennsylvania is arch-conservative Rick Santorum, it made some sense for conservatives to seek to replace him with one of their own. It makes no sense for conservatives to seek to replace Chafee with one of their own in Rhode Island. With Chafee, Republicans at least have a chance of holding on to the seat. With Walberg, they have no chance.

Or does it make sense? From the perspective of ideological purity, it certainly does. Like some on the left, conservatives in this time of Republican unpopularity are looking to purify their ranks and their party. And when ideological purification takes over, whether it's at a right-wing think tank like The Heritage Foundation, at the very heart of the West Wing, or in a liberal state like Rhode Island, the political flexibility required to win at the polls is often ignored. In place of compromise, in place of reality, the fantasy of righteousness, personal and political, takes control.

And one more thing: When ideological purification takes over, the purifiers view the world in terms of good and evil. Whatever is not pure is impure. Whatever is not right is wrong. Whatever is not with us is against us. Whatever is not us is the Other. To conservatives who have already succumbed to the fantasy of righteousness, Chafee is one of the Other. He is not one of us, so he must be one of them. He may be a Republican, but he may as well be a Democrat. There is simply no difference. The Other is a monolithic enemy.

Chafee is more than the new Lieberman. The left has in the past engaged in its own vicious forms of ideological purification, and the recent Democratic primary in Connecticut may be seen as some to be a reflection of more of the same. But, in reality, there seems to be far more of it on the right than on the left. Democrats, often to their electoral harm, emphasize diversity and difference. Republicans, often to their electoral benefit, emphasize unity and sameness. They do not tend to tolerate dissent.

Whatever the spin from the right, Lieberman is the exception, not the Democratic rule. He is a self-styled renegade, the victim of liberal politics in a liberal state, a Democrat who had lost touch with many Democrats. He is not the Other, but Lamont emerged as a more appealing Democrat on the central issue of Iraq.

In contrast, Chafee, Lieberman's colleague from New England, is very much the Republican rule. And the ideological purifiers in his party are looking to take him down. It is simply the Republican thing to do.

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The end is near

AP: "Israel will halt its war in Lebanon at 7 a.m. Monday (midnight EDT Sunday night), a senior Israeli government official said Saturday." It is anticipated that the government will officially accept the U.N. resolution tomorrow.

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Democrats and Iraq

One of the main criticisms levelled at Democrats these days is that, no matter how badly Bush and the Republicans have screwed up (and continue to screw up) Iraq, they have no plan to deal with Iraq, that is, to fix the problem that Iraq has become. (From a Republican perspective, what this means is that a bad plan, or a plan proven to have failed, is better than no plan at all -- specious reasoning, to be sure, but one Republicans hope voters will buy once again, just as they did in '04.)

And yet, as Kevin Drum noted yesterday, responding specifically to Andrew Sullivan's reiteration of the criticism, Democrats do indeed have a plan -- and it's one that critics like Sullivan have more or less proposed themselves: "It may not be perfect, but it's more of a plan than Republicans have offered; it's supported by Democrats of all stripes; and it's awfully close to the kind of thing Sullivan says he wants to see. So what's the problem?"

The problem, I suppose, is that many people, Sullivan (presumably) included, still buy the Republican spin in one grotesque form or another -- the prevailing narrative, repeated over and over in the media (even the "liberal" media), that Democrats are irredeemably weak on national security and the military, that is, that they are a party of doves, while Republicans, warts and all, are the ones to turn to when the going gets tough.

Some people, even smart ones like Sullivan, just won't give Democrats a chance. Which is a shame, because what America, Iraq, and the international community need desperately is for the Democratic Party to prevail both this November and in '08. When given the opportunity, I am confident to predict, Democrats will provide the kind of effective, visionary leadership required in these troubled times.

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Bang the tin drum slowly

Does it matter that Nobel laureate Günter Grass was a member of the Waffen SS in his youth? No. It was a different time and a different place. And his life and his work speak for themselves. He is an extraordinary novelist, certainly one of the greatest of the past fifty years, a humanist, a man of peace.

But it's an interesting story nonetheless -- and, as he himself put it, "[i]t had to come out, finally". More here.

(And now, if you haven't yet, go read The Tin Drum.)

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Friday, August 11, 2006

War and diplomacy: The U.N. votes for cease-fire as Israel expands offensive in Lebanon

Diplomacy has succeeded... for the moment:

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday that calls for a halt to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah and authorizes the deployment of 15,000 foreign troops to help the Lebanese army take control of southern Lebanon.

The resolution calls on Israel to begin withdrawing all its forces from Lebanon "in parallel" with the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and 15,000 additional Lebanese troops. It gives the international force the mandate to use firepower but no explicit role in disarming Hezbollah, leaving the fate of the Lebanese militia to a future political settlement.

Israel and Lebanon agreed to accept the terms of the U.N. cease-fire, according to U.S. and U.N. diplomats. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will ask his cabinet to approve the resolution when it meets Sunday, according to Israeli officials. The Lebanese cabinet is scheduled to vote on it Saturday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the cease-fire will not go into effect immediately. She said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will consult with Israel and Lebanon in the coming days to set a date for the cessation of hostilities.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There is still Hezbollah to consider. Not to mention Israel itself, which forges ahead with its offensive:

Ehud Olmert's office said late Friday that the expanded incursion into Lebanon would continue "for the time being," despite agreeing to a cease-fire resolution drafted by the United Nations Security Council.

Israel will press ahead with its military offensive in south Lebanon until Israel's Cabinet approves an emerging Mideast cease-fire deal...

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers said that the IDF is "continuing forward at full power," and that all forces slated to take part in the expanded incursion have already assumed forward positions in the field.

Olmert will ask his cabinet on Sunday to accept the resolution, but will press the military offensive against Hezbollah until then, a political source said.

Diplomacy seems to be working. The U.S. and France, after all, are on the same side for once, and the unanimity on the U.N. Security Council is promising. Peace is so near and yet so far. We should know something definitive by Sunday. But even if all goes well, even if Israel and Lebanon accept the resolution, what kind of peace will there be?

I remain cautiously optimistic, even if the Hobbesian in me threatens to rebel.

The text of the U.N. draft resolution is here.

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Terrorism and Republican politics

Republicans don't play cheap politics with terrorism, do they? They wouldn't exploit the thwarted terror plot in Britain for the sake of grubby political opportunism, would they?

Yes and Yes. (Those are two of the easiest questions I've ever asked.)

Consider: "Democrats assailed the Republicans Friday for e-mailing a fundraising appeal mentioning the war on terror hours after British authorities disclosed they had disrupted a plot to blow up aircraft headed to the United States."

Republicans blamed "a low-level staffer," a typical scapegoat (as Steve Benen explains).

WaPo may be aiming at neutrality when it claims that "Democrats and Republicans alike rushed to invoke yesterday's terrorist scare in Britain in congressional campaigns," but it was Republicans, from Bush on down, who took the cheapest shots. They, not Democrats, exploit terrorism, and the threat thereof, whenever and wherever possible. With so much failure on their watch, and in the absence of any sort of domestic agenda, all they have left is the politics of fear (terrorists, gays, etc.).

The exception was Lieberman, who -- desperate, clinging to his political career by a thread -- shamelessly attacked Lamont. He said that Lamont's views would be "taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England". I didn't take sides in Lieberman-Lamont I, but such a stupid comment edges me closer to Lamont. But, then, like the Republicans to whom he is so close, Lieberman has virtually nothing left himself. Look for more of the same in Lieberman-Lamont II.

What else could explain Republican exploitation of terrorism? Low poll numbers, as Steve Soto suggests. Bush is down to 33 percent and Republicans trail Democrats by 18 points in a generic poll. Yes, "it must be time to gin up another terror threat, to bad-mouth the Democrats as weak on terror..." (See also DemFromCT at The Next Hurrah.)

It's just more of the same from the Republican Party we've come to know so well.

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Repeating history: The continuation of war in the Middle East

Earlier today -- see here -- I wrote about the ongoing efforts at the U.N. to resolve the conflict in Lebanon diplomatically. I also suggested, rather optimistically, that this is a window of opportunity to break the status quo and to establish a lasting peace in the region.

Reaction begets counter-reaction. Optimism begets pessimism:

Lebanon on Thursday raised objections to a U.S.- and French-backed draft resolution aimed at ending the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel because it does not call for an immediate cease-fire and because the proposed new international force would have a broad mandate to use military firepower.

Indeed, "Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora expressed concerns to Secretary General Kofi Annan about whether he could persuade Hezbollah to accept the draft resolution, according to U.N. officials".

Does Hezbollah even want peace? If so, peace on what terms? If Hezbollah says no to the resolution, that's it. An international force isn't about to replace Israel in southern Lebanon and carry on the war.

Meanwhile, the Israeli air campaign continues with Beirut as a target: "Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a radio tower in downtown Beirut on Thursday and dropped leaflets warning residents of the Lebanese capital that more extensive bombing, whose 'painful and severe results will not be limited' to Hezbollah fighters, is on the way."

I am confident that Israel wants peace. On its own terms, of course, and with Hezbollah weakened as much as possible. Israel is pushing hard before a possible cease-fire, a favourable peace. But it may be pushing too hard.

Diplomacy may fail. A cease-fire, if there is one, may not hold. Any peace may be temporary. War may continue. The eternal recurrence of the same.

Damn history.

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Transatlantic terror threat 2

Must-read: Time uncovers the investigation that thwarted the terrorist plot in Britain to use liquid explosives to bring down transatlantic aircraft. Key passage:

A total of 24 individuals were arrested in Britain overnight and, says one senior U.S. official who was briefed on the plot, five still remain at large. Their plan was to smuggle the peroxide-based liquid explosive TATP and detonators onto nine different planes from four carriers — British Airways, Continental, United and American — that fly direct routes between the U.K and the U.S. and blow them up mid-air. Intelligence officials estimate that about 2,700 people would have perished, according to the official.

Britain's MI-5 intelligence service and Scotland Yard had been tracking the plot for several months, but only in the past two weeks had the plotters' planning begun to crystallize, senior U.S. officials tell TIME. In the two or three days before the arrests, the cell was going operational, and authorities were pressed into action. MI5 and Scotland Yard agents tracked the plotters from the ground, while a knowledgeable American official says U.S. intelligence provided London authorities with intercepts of the group's communications. Most of the suspects are second or third generation British citizens of Pakistani descent whose families hailed from war-torn Kashmir. U.S. officials believe the 29 members were divided into multiple cells and planned to break into small groups to board the nine planes.

Read the whole piece.



The AP reports on the state of red alert: "The Bush administration posted an unprecedented code-red alert for passenger flights from Britain to the United States and banned liquids from all carry-on bags Thursday, clamping down quickly after British authorities disrupted a frightening terror plot."

The New York Times reports that an attack may have been imminent: "In recent days, [DHS Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson] said, plotters began investigating nonstop flights from Britain to the United States. An American counter-terrorism official said they planned 'a dry run' in the next couple of days and, if they could get on several flights at the same time, planned to carry out the attack within days."

The Washington Post traces the history of the investigation back to "the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings on London's transit system".

The Post also looks at a possible al Qaeda connection: "Strong indications of an al-Qaeda link to the alleged airliner-bombing plot uncovered in London yesterday suggest that the terrorist network has survived and adapted despite heavy blows to its leadership and organizational structure over the past five years, U.S. intelligence officials said."

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Just another month in the life and death of Iraq

We jump from days to months.

Back in June, in Part VI of our "Just another day in the life and death of Iraq" series, I reported on the "horror show" at one of Baghdad's morgues. In a separate post, Creature, quoting CNN, noted that "[t]he main Baghdad morgue reported receiving 6,025 bodies in the first five months of the year, including those of 1,398 civilians killed in shooting attacks and other violent crimes in May".

The numbers -- what are numbers? these are human beings! -- seem to be getting worse:

Figures compiled by the city morgue indicated Wednesday that the number of killings in the Iraqi capital reached a new high last month, and the U.S. military said a new effort to bring security to Baghdad will succeed only if Iraqis "want it to work."

The Baghdad morgue took in 1,815 bodies during July, news services quoted the facility's assistant manager, Abdul Razzaq al-Obeidi, as saying. The previous month's tally was 1,595. Obeidi estimated that as many as 90 percent of the total died violent deaths.

And it's actually even worse than that: "A report from the United Nations combining morgue and hospital body counts for June showed that, on average, more than 100 people were being killed every day."

1,398 -- 1,595 -- 1,815 -- 6,025. How do you even digest such figures? Even 100 seems like an abstraction from reality. There is so much violence in Iraq, so much death -- so much death beyond our ability to keep track of it, so much death beyond our limited and fragile comprehension -- that we can do nothing with it but turn it into an abstraction, a statistic. Indeed, the scale of death is simply so enormous as to overwhelm us and to compel us for our own well-being to turn away from it, to ignore its reality, its essential meaning.

1,815 bodies at the Baghdad morgue mean 1,815 human lives ended, 1,815 individual stories of pain, suffering, loss. You can't assign a quantitative value to any one human life. How do you assign value to 1,815 human lives? How do you represent that horror? How do you even understand it?

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Remaking history: An opportunity for peace in the Middle East

The conflict in Lebanon was eclipsed in the news media yesterday by ongoing reports of the thwarted terrorist plot in Britain, but there seem to be some signs that the conflict is about to end. Here's the latest from Haaretz:

The parties involved in diplomatic negotiations for a UN-brokered cease-fire resolution aimed at ending the fighting in Lebanon made a breakthrough Thursday, raising hopes that a truce deal would pave the way for the stationing of international troops in Lebanon as part of a package that would end the month-long confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah.

The UN Security Council will convene Friday to discuss the new proposal, which has been agreed to by the United States as well as France.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton sounds uncharacteristically optimistic -- optimistic that an agreement can and will be reached in the very near future. The U.S. and France are in the process of hammering out a mutually satisfactory resolution that according to "a senior Lebanese political source" would resolve the present conflict:

The breakthrough is based on the inclusion in the call for a cessation of hostilities for a progressive Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory to go simultaneously with the deployment of the Lebanese army backed by reinforced UN peacekeepers.

An advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that any such agreement "may bring the war to an end". A key sticking point, however, seems to be the Shaba Farms.

According to Haaretz, "the Defense Ministry and the IDF General Staff are fiercely opposed to the emerging cease-fire," but an Israeli "[g]overnment source" acknowledges that diplomacy is Israel's best option: "It's true that the problem of Hezbollah has not been solved, but we are also not in a position to solve it militarily."

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has stated that the government is "considering all options". But what this means is that the window will only be open for a diplomatic resolution for a short period: "If diplomacy fails, Peretz said, Israel will 'use all of the tools' to win the war against Hezbollah". One of these "tools" would be "an expanded ground operation" that has already been approved by Israel's security cabinet -- and put on hold: "The cabinet resolved that the plan's implementation would depend on diplomatic developments."


As some of you may know, I have conditionally supported Israel throughout this conflict. I have argued that Israel must be allowed to defend itself against an enemy that wishes to destroy it. However, I do not wish to see an escalation of the ground campaign at present. A continuation of the war may be necessary if diplomacy fails, or, beyond that, if no lasting peace can be established along the Israeli-Lebanese border and Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, continues (or renews) its campaign to terrorize Israel.

Ultimately, Israel needs to be secure as a sovereign state. In other words, its very existence must be secure. It must be allowed to exist in peace.

I hope that this diplomatic effort at the U.N. works. I hope that this current conflict comes to an end with the joint withdrawal of Israel and Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, as well as with border security provided by an international force. But an end to the current conflict, should it soon come, ought to be seen as an opportunity for further efforts to resolve the much larger issue of Israel's security and existence, as an opportunity to establish lasting peace in the region. The status quo ante -- the one with Israel surrounded by enemies armed with increasing sophistication by Iran -- is simply not acceptable. If such an opportunity were to be neglected, with short-term peace welcomed for its own sake and with no regard for long-term solutions -- there will be war again -- much like this one, only far more devastating.

Should the current conflict continue, should Israel mount an even more aggressive ground campaign, there may yet be another opportunity for peace. But at this key moment in the history of the Middle East, one with global ramifications, this opportunity ought to be pursued.

History is doomed to repeat itself. Unless those who are in a position to do so break the cycle and remake history anew. Now is the time for the peacemakers, armed with the tools to enforce peace, to chart a new course away from the turbulent waters of perpetual war.

It is time to make history.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Legislating left

Over at The Carpetbagger Report, my friend Steve Benen mentions the possibility of a much more progressive Senate on the horizon -- if, to quote National Journal, "Democrats win many of their Senate targets" in November. A commenter provides a list of "the strong Dem candidates":

  • Bob Casey: Centrist with some conservatives leanings (pro-life and all that).
  • Jon Tester: Populist who has no qualms about the "liberal" label.
  • Sherrod Brown: Arguably most liberal of the bunch.
  • Claire McCaskill: Center-left type.
  • Ned Lamont: Ditto.
  • Amy Kloubacher: Same.
  • Bernie Sanders: Self described "democratic socialist."
  • Ben Cardin: Pretty much a clone of Paul Sarbanes, who he'd replace.
  • Harold Ford: Centrist.
  • Sheldon Whitehouse: Center-left.
Not too shabby, eh? These are some solid candidates from across the Democratic spectrum.

You can find Steve's post here.

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Transatlantic terror threat 1

This is obviously the big news of the day. From The Washington Post:

British authorities said Thursday they have disrupted a sophisticated and well-advanced terrorist plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives, arresting 24 people who police said had planned to commit mass murder over the Atlantic Ocean.

Police said they were confident they had the "main players" in custody, but authorities in London and Washington ordered a full-scale security clampdown at U.S. and British airports out of concern that other plotters may still be at large. A number of transatlantic flights from Britain were canceled, others were delayed, and new security procedures caused major tie-ups at U.S. airports as authorities enforced a ban on bringing liquids aboard planes in carry-on luggage.

In the United States, the Homeland Security Department raised the terrorist threat level to "Code Red," the highest alert stage, for U.S.-bound flights originating in the United Kingdom and to "Code Orange," the second-highest level, for all other commercial flights operating in or destined for the United States.

According to a U.S. intelligence official, the plotters were "days away" from going through with their plan...

(Emphasis mine.) More to come later today. For now, head on over to Memeorandum for major news reports and responses from the blogosphere.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lamont beats Lieberman

From CNN: "With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, Lamont led Lieberman 52 percent to 48 percent."

According to the Hartford Courant, Joe Lieberman conceded at 11:03 pm last night. In his victory speech, Ned Lamont said that "[i]t's time we fixed George Bush's failed foreign policy" -- meaning, of course, Iraq, the war that Lieberman continues to support alongside Bush. But don't count Lieberman out quite yet. He intends on running as an independent: "As I see it, in this campaign we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November."

"Will you join me?" asked Lieberman. Leading Democrats like the pro-Lieberman Clintons likely won't. Both have said they'd support the Democratic nominee no matter who it is. And it may very well be that other pro-Lieberman Democrats -- including the other senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd -- also back away from an independent Lieberman candidacy, preferring party unity over divisiveness even if Lamont isn't quite to their liking.

The Washington Post is reporting that Lieberman "appeared almost exuberant in defeat," but that exuberance may wane once reality sets in. I suspect that both the Democratic establishment (both in Connecticut and around the country) and Democratic voters in Connecticut will turn to Lamont. Lieberman could hold on to some moderate Democrats and long-time loyalists in a three-way race against Lamont and the Republican candidate, but he would need to win most of the independent vote and a solid segment of the Republican vote in order to prevail in November. Independents could turn to him as a martyr, but it's not clear that Republicans would support him in large enough numbers to push him over the top.

The poll numbers have looked good for an independent Lieberman candidacy, but it doesn't seem likely to me that he'll be able to muster enough support to beat Lamont. November is still a long way off, however. This loss could energize Lieberman, and, with neither party doing all that well in terms of public opinion, it is possible that Lieberman could excite just enough voters to win a three-way race by running as an outsider, as a independent above partisan politics, as a maverick defeated by partisan politics.

As I have argued before, there should be room for Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party. But he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he has done far too much to alienate himself from both establishment and grassroots/netroots Democrats. Like Peter Beinart, I admired his independent streak (or "liberal iconoclasm") when Clinton was in the White House. I saw him as a valuable contributor to Democratic politics. With Bush in the White House, however, his independence has looked more like sycophancy, like knee-jerk stubbornness, like cowardice. Indeed, his "independence" has amounted to little more than acting as Bush's Democratic spokesman. Republicans have used him to make the case that Democrats are divided. He has played his role well. Much to Republicans' delight. Is it any wonder blue-state Democrats have defeated him?


I do not think that he should not run as an independent. That's about as decisive as I can be tonight. Unlike most of my liberal friends, I resisted taking sides in the Connecticut primary -- I don't much like either Lamont or Lieberman.

But Perhaps Lamont will surprise me. Perhaps as I pay close attention to the upcoming campaign I'll come to see that he's more than just a convenient vehicle for interests far larger than he could ever be. Or perhaps Lieberman will impress me like it's 2000 all over again. Anything is possible.

But am I with you, Senator Lieberman? Will I join you? No. Not yet. And perhaps not at all in this campaign. Although I have admired you in the past, and although I am a big-tent Democrat who still thinks you have much to offer the Democratic Party, I'm uncomfortable with an independent candidacy against the winner of the Democratic primary and, regardless, like so many others in the party, I've been opposed to the positions you've taken in recent years on certain key issues like Iraq.

You speak eloquently for independent as opposed to partisan politics, but I'm just not sure you get it anymore. When the other side, Bush's side, is doing so much harm both to America and to the world beyond, it's imperative to take sides, to take the right side, to stand in opposition to the other side. It's possible to do that while avoiding extremism and while retaining diversity and difference on our side. Not all of us will agree on what to do, after all, but at least we can agree that something needs to be done to change the direction the country is taking -- a direction determined by Bush and the Republicans. Do you not see that they are brutally partisan themselves? Do you not see that they have used you at the expense of your own party? Do you not see that they are very much the problem?

I wonder. Perhaps you don't. Or perhaps you don't care. Perhaps you cling to delusions of independence and bipartisanship even in this age of hyperpartisanship. But then you must excuse Democrats, even some Democrats who might otherwise be inclined to support you and who do not celebrate your fall, for concluding that you are indeed the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and that a change in your own state is necessary.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The sting of the jellyfish

Given how depressing the news can be, I thought this might be an interesting little story to break up the litany of horror that seems to draw our attention day after day:

Thousands of holidaymakers in the Mediterranean have been stung by jellyfish as huge swarms of the creatures invade coastal waters.

I mean, jellyfish stings generally aren't that serious. The presence of jellyfish in coastal waters may not be conducive to pleasant vacationing, but, well, no big deal. Right?

Wrong. For it seems that the high concentration of jellyfish in the Mediterranean has likely been caused by overfishing of the jellyfish's natural predators.

That's bad. But so -- more so -- is this: Global warming may be a contributing factor, too, with "higher temperatures and higher salinity near the coast," according to one expert, bringing jellyfish closer to land.

Let the depression resume.

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Just another day in the life and death of Iraq XI

More violence, more death:

A series of bombings and shootings killed at least 31 people Tuesday, most in the Baghdad area, as more U.S. troops were seen in the capital as part of a campaign to reduce Sunni-Shiite violence that threatens civil war.

But who cares anymore, right? It's all so normal now.

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Republican loser update

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

Joe Lieberman’s fate will be determined today in Connecticut. If Ned Lamont wins, there will be some serious rethinking of the Democratic strategy. If Holy Joe can manage to pull it out, the activists in the Party will just have to redouble our efforts.
Joe’s situational integrity is not helping the Party or this country.

Rick “man on dog” Santorum is in trouble too. According to the latest poll, Santorum is trailing Bob Casey by 6 percentage points. A statistical tie yes, but not a good sign for an incumbent, no matter how the GOP tries to spin it. How nice would it be not to have to hear from Sanctimonious Rick anymore? I hope the people of Pennsylvania send his Bible thumping, bestiality obsessed, regressive ass back to the nice suburbs from which he came. Now that is what I call a public service.

Bob “I’d sell my mother for some Abramoff money” Ney has finally dropped his bid for re-election. The only thing that has kept him in the race this long has been his amazing aptitude for denial. Even with his friends’ hands on the voting levers of Ohio, a Ney win would have been impossible to explain. The only way to beat Republicans in the midterms is to crush them. Close isn’t going to do it.

This is the trend all across the country, but the question remains, will this dissatisfaction with Republican leadership hold if the administration decides to start World War III? The October surprise will surely involve terrorists, fear, war and instability. I just hope the Democrats have a surprise of their own lined up (Some honesty about the very dire outlook regarding energy availability and our unstable economy would be good. It won’t happen of course, but it’s what the people of this country need to hear).

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

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Tin-foil hats and tiaras for everyone!

By The (liberal)Girl Next Door

I’ve written before about
why I think conspiracy theories abound with this administration in power. Because the Bush administration is so secretive in the way they do business, it is easy to believe that they may have been involved in a concerted effort to perpetrate fraud in the last election as well as had a hand in 9/11. Neither prospect is good and it hurts to even contemplate that such things could be true, but we know they don’t tell the truth, we know they distort the facts and we know they have classified more documents than any administration in history. That they could be capable of doing evil isn’t much of a stretch and that they could keep their evil deeds hidden from public view with a press that doesn’t care to investigate, seems downright likely.

I find it interesting that a new Scripps poll shows that a third of Americans think that 9/11 was an “inside job”. That is staggering. One out of three people think the Bush administration could very well have organized the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans for the sole purpose of furthering their foreign policy objectives. In other words, a third of this country’s citizens believe that the Bush administration is a terrorist organization. How is it possible that impeachment isn’t even on the table if that many Americans think he’s a killer? Yes, it’s a rhetorical question and we can all say in unison, “it’s possible with the help of a lapdog press.”

Just imagine how that one third would swell to two thirds if there were actual investigative reporting by traditional media on the omissions and outright lies contained in the 9/11 Commission Report, not to mention a serious look into the 2004 election “anomalies” and “glitches” that defy logic. The skepticism is only contained with the help of a press receiving paychecks signed by defense contractors, right wing ideologues and mega media conglomerates, nothing scary about that at all. This is a problem not only when it comes to the lack of oversight of the Bush administration, but will continue to be a problem once there is a Democrat in the White House that will be over investigated the way Clinton was. Like the bumper sticker says, “The media are only as liberal as the conservative businesses that own them” and if their interests align with the Republican Party, expecting a fair and honest assessment of the facts, much less truth from the press is silly.

But a combination of alternative online news sources, the blogisphere and a handful of great thinkers, writers and citizen journalists with some access to traditional media, are catapulting the propaganda and getting the truth to more people every day. Robert Kennedy Jr. and Mike Papantonio have proudly put on their tin foil hats and have filed qui tam cases against the electronic voting machine companies (check out the interview with Papantonio on BradBlog). It will be interesting to see how these cases progress, the hope is that they will lead to discovery of more evidence of wrongdoing by the voting machine companies and maybe even a whistleblower or two willing to come forward. It’s not completely out of the question and it’s a process that can only be good for democracy, whether or not it resolves the issue on its own.

Any legal remedy to having organized criminals running the country will take time, even impeachment is a lengthy process, but it has to start somewhere (or preferably in multiple places at the same time). Bush may be able to hide the truth during his time in office, but I have to believe that all (or most) will eventually be revealed. Too many people in this country don’t trust him or his cabal of neo-con lunatics anymore. That won’t stop them from waging more war or from instilling fear in as much of the population as they can, but it will make it easier to get the facts out. The American public is much more receptive to the idea that this administration will do anything, legal or illegal, moral or immoral, right or wrong, to further their ideological goal of concentrating wealth and power. That’s a damn sight further down the road to recovery than we were a few years back. It’s not ideal, but at least what we’re doing is working. Now if we can just get the Democratic Party on track, we could really get this country moving. Once Lieberman is gone, we will likely pick up some speed on that front too, one less DINO to torpedo our progress and it will scare the hell out of the rest of them to boot. It's a start anyway.

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

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Civil war, shmivil war

Once again, we witness the great delusion of Bush and his fellow bubble-dwellers. Consider, via Think Progress, what two leading generals have had to say recently about what's going on in Iraq:

John Abizaid, Commander of the U.S. Central Command: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably is as bad as I’ve seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "I believe we do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war."

In other words, things are really bad and civil war is a possibility. (Some of us have argued that there is already civil war in Iraq, but that's a separate matter.)

The problem is not with the generals but with the occupant of the Oval Office, the man still calling the shots. How can he lead through the fog of denial? Here's what he said about Iraq: "You know, I hear people say, Well, civil war this, civil war that. The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box. And a unity government is working to respond to the will of the people. And, frankly, it’s quite a remarkable achievement on the political front."

Well, it is remarkable, in a way. And whatever my criticisms of the war, I do want to see a democratic Iraq. The problem is that the conduct of the war, as well as of the occupation, has been so poor, and much of this can be traced back to the utter lack of preparation that accompanied U.S. forces into the country back in 2003. However well the military handled itself, the decision-makers back in Washington didn't seem to know what they were getting themselves, and their country, into.

The war may or may not be justifiable in and of itself, but the conduct of the war has been a failure. The simple fact is that the U.S. is largely occupying a country where sectarian violence, as well as violence against the occupying force, rages in spite of, and to some extent because of, the occupation. And the problem with Bush is not just that he's made some bad decisions, and may yet make many more, but that he doesn't even seem to understand the nature of the problem in Iraq. Yes, it was wonderful to see those millions of Iraqi voters courageously, defiantly going to the polls. And I have no doubt that many Iraqis, perhaps a large majority of them, have "decided against civil war" and object to the ongoing sectarian violence. Surely many of them just want to live in peace.

But the reality is the violence -- and that violence amounts to civil war or at least to a state approximating civil war. America's leading generals understand this. Iraqis understand this. Observers around the world understand this. George Bush, the Boy in the Bubble, evidently does not.

Simply put, Bush has never really gotten it.

And it is that ignorance, willful or otherwise, that has turned a dubious war to begin with into the devastating debacle that it has become.

(See also Crooks and Liars, which has the video. Steve Soto has more, as does Atrios.)

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Lebanese army to move into south after Israeli withdrawal

Some promising news from Haaretz:

Lebanon will deploy its army in the south of the country after the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from the area, the Lebanese cabinet agreed Monday night, in a decision supported by all the ministers present, including the five Shi'ite ministers who represent Hezbollah and Amal.

The decision marks the first time since 1982 that the Lebanese government has decided to impose its sovereignty in the south of the country.

Lebanese officials are hoping that in the wake of the night's decision, the United Nations Security Council will agree to the amended U.S.-French draft resolution that calls for the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the country.

Why promising? It's what Israel has wanted (and needed) all along, a self-governing Lebanon that can provide security in the Hezbollah-dominated south. And it's what Lebanon and the Lebanese people need, the assertion by a democratic government of legitimate sovereignty throughout the entire country. And it may encourage an end to this conflict, with Israel withdrawing from Lebanon and Hezbollah acceding to Lebanese authority -- and, beyond that, laying down its arms and operating as a Lebanese political party rather than as an anti-Israeli terrorist organization.

If nothing else, this could bring about the end of the current conflict. If Lebanon is able to assume control in the south, and to control Hezbollah, it could mean a breakthrough in the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It's too soon for optimism, to be sure, but at least there's a glimmer of hope out there.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Good for Google

Google came under a good deal of criticism earlier this year when it agreed to censor itself in China in return for access to the Chinese market -- see here and here (where I suggested, somewhat controversially, that "Google's censored presence in China may yet be the thin end of a wedge that is essential to opening up China to alternatives to its brutal totalitarianism").

Regardless, Google is certainly on the side of all consumers here:

Google has started warning users if they are about to visit a webpage that could harm their computer.

The warning will pop up if users click on a link to a page known to host spyware or other malicious programs.

The initiative comes out of a larger project cataloguing programs that plague people with unwanted ads, spy on web habits or steal personal data.

Google is one of several companies trying to act as an "in-flight adviser" to ensure people stay safe online.

An extremely valuable service for interent users. Good for Google.

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An impotent NSA

Yes, according to the Baltimore Sun, "[t]he National Security Agency is running out of juice": "The demand for electricity to operate its expanding intelligence systems has left the high-tech eavesdropping agency on the verge of exceeding its power supply... The NSA is already unable to install some costly and sophisticated new equipment, including two new supercomputers, for fear of blowing out the electrical infrastructure." How serious is this?

At minimum, the problem could produce disruptions leading to outages and power surges at the Fort Meade headquarters, hampering the work of intelligence analysts and damaging equipment, they said. At worst, it could force a virtual shutdown of the agency, paralyzing the intelligence operation, erasing crucial intelligence data and causing irreparable damage to computer systems -- all detrimental to the fight against terrorism.

And detrimental to illegal domestic eavesdropping, of course. Steve Benen puts it all in context.

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Leaving Virginia

WaPo is reporting today that some gays and lesbians are leaving the unfriendly confines of Virginia. Consider what Virginia is doing to them:

Virginia state legislators passed a law two years ago that prohibits "civil unions, partnership contracts or other arrangements between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage." A proposed constitutional amendment, which will go to voters in November, excludes any "unmarried individuals" from "union, partnership or other legal status similar to marriage."

Many gay people in Virginia and some family-law attorneys say they worry that the state law and proposed amendment are more far-reaching than simple bans on gay marriage -- that the measures could threaten the legal viability of the contracts used by gay couples to share ownership of property and businesses.

The exact effects are unclear, and the 2004 law remains untested, but some gays say they fear the laws could affect their ability to own homes together; to draft powers of attorney, adoption papers or wills; or to arrange for hospital visitation or health surrogacy.

I suspect that an exodus of gays and lesbians is precisely what some of these barbarian jurisdictions want. Perhaps they want all homosexuals, and whatever other people don't meet their narrow definition of moral purity, to remove themselves to Boston or San Francisco, where they can be effectively ghettoized, segregated from mainstream America, where their "illness" can be treated, where they can be collectively damned.

For many of these bigots, gays and lesbians are sub-human. In places like Virginia, they're not even worthy of some of the most basic civil liberties. Gays and lesbians shouldn't have to move, but can you blame them?

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mind your own business

By Creature

Neo-cons shouldn't be allowed to comment on internal Democratic party politics, but they do anyway. Robert Kagan, writing in yesterday's Washington Post, is simply talking out his Lieberman-loving ass. First, the set-up:

If Lieberman loses, it will not even be because he supported the war.

Fine, I'll give Kagan that.

Nor will he lose because he opposes withdrawing troops from Iraq this year.

You know what? I'll give him this point as well. (Hold on, I'm getting to the good stuff.)

Nor, finally, is it because he has been too chummy with President Bush. Lieberman has offered his share of criticism of the administration's handling of the Iraq war and of many other administration policies.

Okay, now you lost me. Obviously, Kagan -- acting in true neo-con form -- is willfully ignoring the truth. Kagan ignores "the kiss." Kagan ignores Sean Hannity squirting his love-juice across Lieberman's can't-we-all-just-get-along face. Kagan ignores what the people who actually live in Connecticut are saying. No, for Kagan, this is why Joe may lose:

No, Lieberman's sin is of a different order. Lieberman stands condemned today because he didn't recant. He didn't say he was wrong. He didn't turn on his former allies and condemn them. He didn't claim to be the victim of a hoax. He didn't try to pretend that he never supported the war in the first place. He didn't claim to be led into support for the war by a group of writers and intellectuals whom he can now denounce. He didn't go through a public show of agonizing and phony soul-baring and apologizing in the hopes of resuscitating his reputation, as have some noted "public intellectuals."

What a load of crap. But wait, it gets better. Close it out, Kagan, while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

The only thing that doesn't pay is honesty. If Joe Lieberman loses, it will not be because he supported the war or even because he still supports it. It will be because he refused to choose one of the many dishonorable paths open to him to salvage his political career.

He is the last honest man, and he may pay the price for it. At least he will be able to sleep at night. And he can take some solace in knowing that history, at least an honest history, will be kinder to him than was his own party.

Maybe, Mr. Kagan, it's because of folks like you, folks from the neo-con side, who continue to lavish their praise on Joe that makes me unable to look at his Bush-kissing, disingenuous face anymore.

I need to take a shower. David Sirota gets a hat tip for pointing out that Kagan is a neo-con. Plus, he has more.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Conversation starters

By Creature

Suppose you come face to face with Chris Matthews at a bar this evening. Suppose he proceeds to lecture you on the greatness of his favorite maverick, John McCain. Be prepared to answer this hardballer with the Shakers Guide to John McCain. Brought to you by Shakespeare's Sister, it's everything you need to know about John McCain but were afraid to remember.

Okay, if that's too far fetched, imagine this: You are heading up to Connecticut to play a round of golf with an old college buddy. You know he/she leans right and likes Joe. You don't want to seem out-of-touch with the big primary only a day or so away. What's a potential Tiger Woods to do? Never fear, the Carpetbagger is here. The man who belongs to no state takes you on a tour of the talk surrounding Tuesday's anti-war vote. Don't step on the green without it.

Fine, you don't drink. You don't play golf. Maybe tonight you'll be staying home, in your mom's basement, plotting the destruction of mankind. You need a plan and you are looking for a few good friends in government to help you out. Have I got a bunch of nuts for you. It's Salon you'll need to turn to for this pinky plan. Watch the commercial, it's worth the price of admission, for this neo-con war plan is anything but a clean break.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Targeting civilians: The truth about Hezbollah

From Human Rights Watch:

Hezbollah must immediately stop firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel, Human Rights Watch said today. Entering the fourth week of attacks, such rockets have claimed 30 civilian lives, including six children, and wounded hundreds more...

Hezbollah claims that some of its attacks are aimed at military bases inside Israel, which are legitimate targets. But most of the attacks appear to have been directed at civilian areas and have hit pedestrians, hospitals, schools, homes and businesses...

As of August 4, Hezbollah had launched a reported 2,500 rockets into predominantly civilian areas in northern Israel...

This is not to suggest that Israel has acted blamelessly during this conflict -- consider the Qana bombing, for example -- but does Israel intentionally target civilians? Does it recklessly -- and ruthlessly -- lob missiles into civilian areas?

This is the nature of the enemy Israel confronts.

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The future of Tony Blair

According to The Sunday Telegraph, Blair intends on staying in office for "at least another year".

Successor-to-be Gordon Brown is surely not amused, but -- domestic fatigue and negative poll numbers notwithstanding -- Blair is still a valuable presence on the international stage, not least as a bridge between the U.S. and Europe. Signing on to Bush's war in Iraq has brought him down, but he remains in my view a formidable champion of liberal values.

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Iranian uranium

A disturbing report in The Sunday Times:

Iran is seeking to import large consignments of bomb-making uranium from the African mining area that produced the Hiroshima bomb, an investigation has revealed.

A United Nations report, dated July 18, said there was “no doubt” that a huge shipment of smuggled uranium 238, uncovered by customs officials in Tanzania, was transported from the Lubumbashi mines in the Congo.

The shipment was headed "for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas".

This much is obvious: "The disclosure will heighten western fears about the extent of Iran’s presumed nuclear weapons programme and the strategic implications of Iran’s continuing support for Hezbollah during the war with Israel."

And remember: This is from the U.N., not Cheney's office. This isn't some neoconservative plot to justify a new war against Iran.

We know that Iran is developing a nuclear program that may produce weapons. We know that Iranian President Ahmadinejad think that the only solution to the conflict in the Middle East is the elimination of Israel. We know that Iran supports, and arms, Hezbollah. We know that Hezbollah is firing missiles into Israel.

Get the picture?

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